Military & Aerospace

1971 War: Battle of Bogra
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Issue Vol. 33.4 Oct-Dec 2018 | Date : 11 Feb , 2019

Northwestern Sector 5/11 GR

The capture of Bogra was a landmark victory in which every soldier of 5/11 GR played a vital role against the enemy, which was entrenched in fortified positions. It was a classic battle in a built up area where grit, determination combined with individual and collective gallant actions and military skills, played a major role. The pride of the Pakistan Army lay prostrate as they had been pulverised, humbled and reduced to a pathetic condition with no option but the ignominy of surrender. The capture of Bogra thus played a significant role in the liberation of Bangladesh.

The Battle of Bogra is unique in the history of the 1971 War as it was perhaps the only battle that was fought in built up areas. An unimaginable level of ferocity between the two foes was witnessed as every inch of ground was contested for. Bogra was important in the North Western Sector as it was the District Headquarters and an important communications centre. It had a big railway yard and a functional air strip and was connected to Dacca and other parts of East Pakistan by rail, road and air. The Tactical HQ of 16 Infantry Division (Pak) and 205 Infantry Brigade (Pak) was located here and had been developed as a large logistic base. Bogra was the final objective of 20 Infantry Division of the Indian Army.

For 5/11 GR, it was continuant of the battle for Mahasthan. The Battalion provided a firm base for 340 Infantry Brigade’s final assault on Bogra. In the afternoon of December 13, 1971, 2/5 GR along with a Squadron of 63 CAV (T-55) advanced along Road Rangpur-Bogra to capture the town from the North. 6 GUARDS with 69 Armoured Regiment (PT-76) bypassed it from the East and cut it off from the South. They attacked the town from the South and South East. 2/5 GR cleared the area North of the railway line by mid-day on December 14 against stiff opposition. 6 GUARDS also made steady progress from the South against determined resistance. 165 Mountain Brigade’s thrust from North-West had reached Khetlal but did not influence Bogra. By afternoon, it was apparent that additional forces would be required for impetus to the operations lest the strategic time calculations of Eastern Command were upset. Thus, 4 MADRAS and 5/11GR along with additional artillery were released to join the battle.

The civil population had fled the town or had gone into hiding anticipating the looming danger of battle…

Accordingly, at 1500 hrs on December 14, 5/11 GR were tasked to concentrate in area Jaypurpara, North of Bogra by 2000hrs. At 0030hrs on December 15, it was ordered to isolate Bogra from the West by first light and clear all enemy resistance West of Road Bogra-Sherpur by last light. The enemy had been surrounded from the North, East and South. The only avenue available to him for reinforcements/escape was from Naogaon/Nator in the West/South-West. Operation by 5/11 GR from West/South-West would enable early capitulation of the enemy. Brig Tajammul Hussain Malick, Commander 205 Infantry Brigade of Pakistan had taken command of Bogra garrison. By now, most of the remnants of his Brigade from Hilli (4FF), Bhaduria (13FF), Goraghat (8 Baluch), Mahasthan (32 Baluch) and even Jaipurhat (8 Baluch) had fallen back on Bogra.

By December 14, the town had a strength of more than 1,500 all ranks to defend it. (Ref to Sketch) Tajammul was a fanatic whom we expected to fight till the end. He was commissioned in 7 RAJPUT Regiment in February 1947 from OTS Bangalore. He had commanded 3 Baluch Regiment during the 1965 War in Lahore Sector. He was a hard task master and a ruthless commander. He had volunteered to fight against the Indian Army even though he held a coveted appointment in the SD Directorate at the GHQ. He took over the Brigade on November 17, 1971. It is noteworthy that he was one of the few commanders who were promoted after repatriation as a POW. He staged coups in 1977 and 1980. He was imprisoned but pardoned in 1988, after General Zia Ul Haq’s death. The Pakistanis could hold Bogra for more than a week with the resources they had. After the war, Pakistani officers who were our POWs told us that Brig Tajammul had gone around the entire town organising the defences. Later, during the battle, he had moved around in his jeep with a loud speaker inspiring his men by reciting the Koran and exhorting them to fight till the end.

Battle of Bogra: 5/11 Gorkha Rifles

As per our Brigade plan, Bogra had to be sealed so that the enemy was bottled up, isolated in pockets and dealt piecemeal from different directions. For 5/11 GR, this involved capture of the Railway Station, Police Station and Circuit House in the heart of town. These three areas were fortified and held strongly. They had become centres of resistance because the Brigade HQ and administrative base were located here. Also, the troops withdrawing under pressure from the Northern and Southern Columns, had reinforced the perimeter defence around these landmarks.

We marched about 20km from Jaypurpara cross country at night, outflanking Bogra from the West. “B” Company under Major TB Rai established a roadblock at Sahardigi cutting off Bogra from Naogaon. The remainder of the Battalion concentrated at Track Junction South West of Bogra by 0500hrs. It was a large area with lots of cover that concealed our presence. We carried out our final preparations at this place. Lt Col FT Dias, the Commanding Officer, issued his final orders at 0630hrs (Ref Sketch). We were on the outskirts of Bogra town. It was very quiet. Not a single soul stirred. Stray dogs and abandoned cattle roamed around the streets. The civil population had fled the town or had gone into hiding anticipating the looming danger of battle.

As the casualties started occurring and the intensity of enemy fire increased, cohesion broke…

We commenced operations astride Road Nator-Bogra at 0830hrs for capture of the town. Heavy artillery fire was brought down on suspected enemy positions. Some buildings caught fire and some were demolished. The ground shook under our feet. It was a spectacular and awe inspiring scene. We followed the artillery shelling at a distance. “A” and “C” Companies secured area Malgram by 0930hrs without any opposition. It appeared as if we had entered a ghost town. There was no enemy but we noticed several damaged buildings, a few maimed animals and bomb craters along our route. The atmosphere was very eerie. Perhaps the enemy did not expect an outflanking move from the West at night and attack from the South-West. He had thus left the outer perimeter undefended. After we had secured Malgram, “A” Company under me was tasked to advance and capture the Railway Station and “C” Company under Capt MS Pathania, was tasked to capture the Circuit House. “D” Company under Major AS Mamik was reserve. Both these objectives were about 3km from our start point. From Malgram, the road bifurcated to these objectives. We were now in heavily built up area. Bogra had remarkable similarity to Siliguri or Malda in India.

Here, it is important to explain the geography, layout and composition of the town so that the ferocity and savagery of fighting and the difficulties we faced in overcoming enemy resistance is viewed in the correct perspective. Bogra was a typical Bengali town – a combination of modern housing colonies and the Old Township with narrow streets. Slums and shanties were intermingled with new colonies. There was no regular pattern of roads and streets. Some were wide with trees on both sides while some were very narrow and winding. Each colony had a mixture of colonial bungalows and houses with large compounds, rows of low small houses as well as clusters of mud houses for the poor. The colonies were interspersed with ponds, groves, parks and playfields. There were also some tall structures such as water towers and multi-storey buildings housing offices and institutions. All in all, it was an ideal mix, advantageous to the defender. He could fight from roof tops of concrete buildings. The tall buildings and towers gave him observation and good field of fire. The bungalows provided him with open killing areas as delay lines. The ponds and narrow roads were obstacles that impeded our movement. The narrow streets and alleys channelised our movement and bunching created good targets for him.

Concrete houses had been fortified and automatic weapons effectively covered all movement. Placements for RRs, HMGs and other direct firing weapons had been made. Artillery fire caused damage to buildings but few casualties. The 75/24 Howitzer was more accurate and effective even though the small shell caused little structural damage. Our best weapons were small arms, grenades, 3.5 in RLs and 57 mm RCLs. Every one carried Molotov Cocktails as we knew that the Pakistanis feared death by fire believing that such a death would consign them to hell. They were thus mortally scared of this weapon.

Realising that it would be very difficult to fight at night, we decided to put in every ounce of our effort to reach the objective by last light…

Before we set off from Malgram, I bid good luck to Capt Pathania. Although a brave officer, he appeared somewhat apprehensive and worried. I encouraged him and we departed for our objectives with a smile and a victory sign. He had been appointed Company Commander only four days ago as the replacement for Major Naresh Bhasin who had been severely wounded in the battle of Goraghat. He came from an illustrious military family. His father had served in 6th Royal Battalion 13 Frontier Force Rifles as a VCO with General Muhammad Musa who later became COAS Pakistan Army. He was in regular correspondence with General Musa till the end. Pathania was the youngest of five brothers, all of whom served in the Indian Army as officers. I divided my company into two columns. No 1 Platoon under 2/Lt Teja Bedi to clear all built up area on the right of the road and No 2 Platoon under Subedar Dil Bahadur Tamang to clear the area left of the road. No 3 Platoon under Subedar Madan Kumar Rai to move behind my group as reserve.

No sooner had we covered a few blocks of houses than we came under intense automatic fire from all directions. The battle had commenced. We had hit the main enemy defences. We had no choice but to clear each house by section drills that we had practiced at Kishanganj before the war. This went fine in the early stages and the platoon commanders had some control over their men. But as the casualties started occurring and the intensity of enemy fire increased, cohesion broke. Some of the houses from where the enemy was engaging us had to be cleared from back alleys or the rear while enemy was fixed from the front or roof top of adjoining house. In one such action, Rfn Kamal Rai and Manbahadur Limbu jumped through the rear window and killed three enemy soldiers before others scurried out of fear to the next block. Sections leapfrogged from one house to another, physically evicting the enemy with grenades and Molotov Cocktails.

The enemy put up resistance in each encounter, abandoning the building only when some of their men were killed, wounded or trapped. The fear of getting captured or killed made them abandon some of the well-prepared positions when they were isolated. As the enemy did not have time to lay booby traps, we found just one or two unfinished crude devices. Nevertheless, it put caution on us. Some of our sections lost cohesion and landed up with other platoons. Some continued to fight independently till last light. The enemy would allow us to close in and then bring down intense fire by all weapons, pinning us down or making us run helter skelter for cover.

Battle of Hilli-Bogra

We made very slow progress and by mid-day, had managed to clear only about a kilometre or so of the area. I moved just behind both the platoons with enemy bullets flying all around, crouching and crawling along with the men. When Nk Bal Bahadur Rai’s men were held up by a HMG from a fortified window, the 75/24 Howitzers came to our rescue. They blasted the enemy fortification. The 57 mm RCL was also effective in some such situations. The Commanding Officer was anxious and worried about our slow progress. He asked me to speed up the operations. I launched the third platoon at this juncture. The Commanding Officer also launched “D” Company in the wake of “C” Company to speed up operations. “B” Company was asked to vacate the roadblock and join the Battalion as Commanding Officer’s reserve. The events were now moving fast and there was no time to think of life or death. As automatic fire rattled over my head, I got involved with the fighting at hand.

By now, we were half-way to the Railway Station – somewhere near a tall water tower, a structure dominating the entire landscape. It was fortified at the ground level to prevent entry into the compound, as well as at various levels to engage us successively at different ranges. We were effectively pinned down and could not move. It was here we suffered two fatal casualties in quick succession while attempting to capture it. Rfn Rum Bahadur Limbu jumped the fence to enter the staircase of the water tower, but was critically wounded by enemy fire. I asked Rfn Kharkha Bahadur Limbu from the same platoon who had taken position close to me, to neutralise the enemy firing at us. Rfn Kharkha Bahadur took a hit in the abdomen as he dashed across. He looked towards me in pain and signaled if he could be rescued. We made several attempts to reach him under cover of RCL, RL and even artillery fire, but could not succeed in face of heavy and accurate fire.

The JCOs and ORs in the Pakistani Army seemed happy that the war was over and were eager to return home…

This position was holding two of my platoons for quite some time. All our attempts to move were thwarted by accurate fire. Finally, I decided to change the direction of my attack. While a Section of No 3 platoon continued to engage the enemy and protected the wounded, we bypassed the enemy further to the East and West of it. We faced stubborn resistance, but somehow penetrated through the gaps. After about an hour, the enemy slowly gave way on the flanks of the water tower. He kept falling back towards the Railway Station. By 1700hrs, we were still a kilometre from our objective. Realising that it would be very difficult to fight at night, we decided to put in every ounce of our effort to reach the objective by last light. We used all weapons and fire power at our disposal against each building occupied by the enemy that came in our way. We reduced it to rubble or set it on fire to flush him out.

Many acts of bravery have gone unrecorded and unnoticed against the enemy during this time. The pulverising effect of our fire and our bold and fearless actions, took a heavy toll on the enemy and demoralised him. Amazingly our advance quickened. Perhaps the enemy realised that every minute, the situation was becoming hopeless and fighting at night in isolated pockets would destroy them piecemeal. So they started falling back towards a safe area. Just before last light, No 1 Platoon under Teja Bedi captured part of the Railway Station while we were still some distance away in the West. It was a coup. Enemy troops holding the Railway Station were surprised by Lnk Man Bahadur’s section that fled away along the railway line towards Naogaon without a fight. When the enemy found us in their rear, they panicked and abandoned fortified positions.

We had breached the inner perimeter of defence and captured the whole of the Railway Station by last light and quickly organised the defence of the Railway Station. I did not pursue the enemy along the railway line, but sent out an MMG Detachment under Hav Kishore Chandra Pradhan about 200 yards away to protect our flank. This area was part of the railway yard. There was a big shed close by. Suddenly, there was firing and the Detachment was assaulted by Pakistani troops who were hiding in the shed. Both the gunners were killed and those resting were physically overpowered and taken prisoners along with the MMG. I deferred rescue action at that point of time as our priority was to secure the Railway Station against counter action by the enemy. We had to regain command and control of the men who were still engaged with the enemy in isolated pockets.

No 3 Platoon was still at the water tower. It found it difficult to move due to large water bodies and barricades all along its route. We had to also collect our casualties who were scattered at different places. In hindsight, had the MMG Detachment investigate the shed, the large concentration of Pakistanis hiding there would have been discovered. It was a lucrative target in hiding and all of them could be killed by one or two artillery salvos.

I informed the Commanding Officer of our success as also about the MMG Detachment mishap. I also told him about the presence of a large group of enemy soldiers West of my location. He was happy with our achievements and asked us to consolidate and be vigilant at night because the enemy was still in our vicinity. I organised all-round defence of the Railway Station.

After we dispatched the POWs, a proper military funeral was organised for our four fallen comrades…

My thoughts now turned to Rfn Kharka Bahadur Limbu who lay helplessly wounded at the water tower and others casualties. I was informed that the enemy had vacated the water tower quietly and slipped away under the cover of darkness. Rfn Kharka Bahadur had been rescued, but he had lost lot of blood and was very weak. Before he could be evacuated, life had ebbed out of him. I contacted “C” Company to find out about their progress; but was informed that Captain Pathania had been killed while assaulting an enemy position. I felt very sad about both. Perhaps Pathania had a premonition about his death and that was his way of conveying it to me.

We had four dead and about eight other casualties by night fall. We were all tired and fatigued. We spent the cold night on whatever food was left with us since the previous night. By 2030hrs, all the objectives had been secured. However, we waited till first light for link up to avoid cross-firing between own troops. To our surprise, there was no enemy reaction anywhere near the Railway Station during the night. By and large, it was peaceful except an occasional rifle shot/ volley of fire in some distant area. By 0930hrs on December 16, we learnt that unilateral ceasefire had been declared by India and any Pakistani defence personnel who surrendered, were to be taken as POW. Those who continued to fight would be treated as the enemy.

At about 1030hrs, our sentry noticed some movement from the Railway Shed area. First, a white flag emerged followed by a few soldiers in khaki with their arms raised. We allowed them to approach us. We also spotted two short-statured persons in olive green among them. They were followed by about 200 others carrying arms. They were asked to halt outside our defences and 2/Lt Teja Bedi met them there. He informed me that there were eight officers, six JCOs and about 212 ORs. Hav Kishore Pradhan along with his gun number and complete MMG was also part of the group. They surrendered their weapons and belts.

The group consisted of elements from 4 FF, 13 FF, 8 Baluch and other arms and services. We segregated them in groups of officers, JCOs and ORs. They surrendered 4 HMGs, 20 LMGs and a heap of rifles, sub-machine guns and pistols along with other military equipment. They told me that two companies of 8 Baluch were defending the perimeter around the Railway Station and one company was in the Circuit House. They had been ordered to fight till the end. They had suffered continuous defeats and were on the run since December 8. Since they were surrounded, they had realised the hopelessness of situation. Many were lying dead under the rubble and many others were sick. The civilian population despised them. Thus they had no will to fight any more.

When they heard the news of ceasefire on the radio, they decided to ignore the orders of their commander and surrendered. They also wanted to protect themselves from marauding Bangladeshis out to avenge humiliation and atrocities committed by the Pakistan Army. The POWs were hungry, disheveled, battle fatigued and demoralised. They informed me of the location of rations, equipment, CSD stores and a cook house very close by and sought permission to cook food as they were hungry since the day before. I allowed them to cook food under our supervision.

During this period, I interacted with the officers. There was one senior Major who was a Muhajir. His family had migrated from UP and were settled in Karachi. He was very worried, nervous and depressed. All the while he was keen to know the extent of damage caused to Karachi by our Navy and the Air Force and if there was any way he could find out about his family. Then there were two Punjabi Majors who were gloomy, sulking and sullen in defeat. They were ignored by the other officers. Three other officers were happy that the war was over and that they were alive. They preferred to smoke and rest in a corner.

Lastly, there were two Lieutenants for whom war was a new experience and being POWs, even more so. They chatted eagerly and without any inhibitions. They ignored the Punjabi Officers who felt uneasy because of their coziness towards us. They told me that they were Rangars (Jat converts from Haryana) who had migrated from Sonipat-Panipat. Their fathers had been a part of the Indian Army during the war in Burma and they had been in Japanese custody as POWs. It was a coincidence that like their fathers, both were POWs together, of course, now in custody of the Indian Army. They narrated a number of personal anecdotes in PMA and unit. Once, when the GOC had visited their Battalion, a shikaar had been organised for him. They were asked to hide behind bushes with a cage full of partridges. There was a mix up and the partridges were released earlier than planned. The shoot was a flop and they were reprimanded for it by the Commanding Officer.

The JCOs and ORs seemed happy that the war was over and were eager to return home. They praised the Indian Army in some way or the other. All of a sudden, a large crowd of Bangladeshis and Mukti Bahini appeared to see the POWs. They were taunted and jeered by them. Some of them were also brandishing weapons, swords and knives at them. The Pakistani POWs seemed to be edgy and scared of the Mukti Bahini and the civilians. The atmosphere changed dramatically and even the Punjabi officers earnestly pleaded with me to ensure their safety from the locals and the Mukti Bahini. I marched off all the POWs under a heavy escort to the Battalion HQ before the angry and agitated Bangladeshis created a new situation.

Hav Kishore Chandra Pradhan, the MMG Detachment Commander who had been captured by the Pakistanis told me that they were taunted and addressed as ‘Kafirs’. There was a clamour from a section of Pakistanis to torture and shoot them in reprisal. But one Pakistani Major rebuked and cautioned the hotheads. He told them that they had been surrounded and if these prisoners were killed, the Indian Army would not spare any one of them. The other officers supported him. Thereafter, they were tied up but treated gently till the surrender. Had it not been for that Major, they would have been tortured and possibly killed.

After we dispatched the POWs, a proper military funeral was organised for our four fallen comrades. For us, the Battle of Bogra was over when HQ 205 Infantry Brigade of the Pakistan Army was captured. The BM along with GSO 3 (Ops), CO 80 Field Regiment, 3 Engineer officers and 50 ORs, surrendered to “D” Company disobeying the orders of their Commander. Battle Honours of 8 Baluch were also captured. By evening of December 16, the Battalion had captured 14 officers, 6 JCOs and 262 OR. A formal surrender ceremony was held at Bogra on December 18, where Major General Nazar Hussain Shah, GOC 16 Infantry Division handed over his pistol and belt to Major General LS Lahel, GOC 20 Mountain Division in the presence of about 1,500 personnel of all ranks.

We learnt here that Brig Tajammul Hussain Malick had tried to flee to Nator in his jeep along with his escort but was caught by civilians and handed over to Mukti Bahini. They had thrashed him inflicting head injuries and fracturing his arms and legs. When his condition turned serious, he was handed over to the Indian Army as a POW.

The capture of Bogra was a landmark victory in which every soldier of 5/11 GR played a vital role against the enemy which was entrenched in fortified positions. It was a classic battle in a built up area where grit, determination combined with individual and collective gallant actions and military skills played a major role. The pride of the Pakistan Army lay prostrate as they had been pulverised, humbled and reduced to a pathetic condition with no option but the ignominy of surrender. The capture of Bogra thus played a significant role in the liberation of Bangladesh.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen JBS Yadava

Lt Gen JBS Yadava was commissioned in the 11 GR in 1964. He fought in the 1965 and 1971 wars. He was awarded the Vir Chakra for gallantry in 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh. In 1992-94 he commanded a RR Sector in the Amritsar district against terrorism in the state. He retired as Deputy Chief of the Army staff.

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