Joginder Singh’s brigade was at that time, on Lachhman Singh’s earlier orders, scattered all over the divisional sector. One battalion was allotted to 202 Mountain Brigade, another investing Dinajpur from the south, and the third spearheaded Sharma’s advance. The only force available with Joginder Singh on the afternoon of 6 December was his skeleton headquarters and himself. But he energetically set about assembling the troops allotted to him. straight away, he collected his original battalion, 2/5 Gorkha Rifles, which was already in the area, took over 6 Guards, which was holding the bridgehead under his wing, and ordered 5/11 Gorkha Rifles to pull out expeditiously.This regrouping and the movement of the allotted armour and artillery took some 36 hours to complete, an inexcusable delay in mobile operations. From then onwards both Sharma and Bhatti continued to edge forward towards the linkup without making substantial progress. Sharma captured Bhaduria, a defended locality held by about company strength, on 11 December at considerable cost.
17 Kumaon suffered two officers, three JCOs and 67 other ranks wounded in that action without achieving any tactical advantage. It was claimed that 82 bodies, including one major and one artillery officer, were counted in all. The attrition rate in fighting for prepared defences was high on both sides and did not yield commensurate results.
The ambush surprised his party greatly and nearly cost him his life. In a hurry to get down and escape, the General sprained his ankle and had to lie in a bamboo clump for quite a while till a search party found him.
Jogi commenced the advance after midday on 7 December from the bridgehead over the Karatoya with one combat group of 2/5 Gorkha Rifles and 69 Armoured Regiment (PT-76 tanks), less one squadron, along the Nawabganj-Chandipur-Lal Dighi Bazaar-Pirganj axis. One squadron led the advance and the followup squadron carried 2/5 Gorkha Rifles, an infantry battalion, on tanks. The second infantry battalion was to catch up by marching flat foot. The combat group made rapid progress and secured Chandipur town in a couple of hours or so by overcoming minor opposition. It pushed ahead speedily and captured Pirganj by afternoon without a fight. A few troops were seen fleeing the town when our forward tank columns started enveloping the position.
Roadblocks were soon established along the Rangpur-Bogra highway at Lai Dighi Bazaar in the north and close to Barabila lake in the south in addition to the crossroads at Chandipur in the west and Bahadurpur in the southwest. The roadblocks were in the process of occupation when a Pakistani jeep column travelling from Rangpur towards Pirganj hit the block at Lai Dighi Bazaar and was fired upon by the tanks there. One jeep blew up, but the rest managed to escape in the darkness prevailing at that time. Next morning two jeeps, including one belonging to Nazar Hussain Shah, and one soldier, some marked maps and other valuable documents fell into our hands.
After his surrender the General gave a colourful account of his narrow escape from death. Along with Brig Tajamul Hussain, Commander 205 Infantry Brigade, he was on his way to Bogra to prepare for the fast-developing Indian threat towards Pirganj. Since nothing had happened for almost 36 hours to 48 hours after the capture of Nawabganj, he did not endow the Indians with the capability of disrupting the highway so far. The ambush surprised his party greatly and nearly cost him his life. In a hurry to get down and escape, the General sprained his ankle and had to lie in a bamboo clump for quite a while till a search party found him. The same night, on the way to Rangpur, his jeep collided with another vehicle. Once again, Shah was lucky to escape unhurt.
The Pakistani assault was soon broken by concentrated fire from Indian tanks, artillery and mortars. Unable to make much headway, the force withdrew.
On hearing of the roadblocks, the Pakistani garrison commanders at Rangpur and Bogra reacted sharply. Two companies from 32 Baluch led by their commanding officer, rushed from Bogra and hit the 2/5 Gorkha Rifles roadblock near the lake a little past midnight. In the ensuing exchange of fire the Pakistani commander was killed. His body was recovered the next morning. The rest of the force withdrew before dawn. It transpired later that they were advance elements of 32 Baluch ordered to occupy the Pirganj defences before the Indian thrust reached the place. They arrived too late. About the same time, two companies of Pakistan 8 Punjub, accompanied by tanks, came from Rangpur and attacked the Laldighi roadblock in a spirited charge.
By then, two companies of 5/11 Gorkha Rifles had also arrived and adequately strengthened the block. The Pakistani assault was soon broken by concentrated fire from Indian tanks, artillery and mortars. Unable to make much headway, the force withdrew. This perhaps constituted the search party for the General, and he went back to Rangpur with it. Shackled by constraints on using 6 Guards, the closest troops available, and undue caution to hold Pirganj in strength, Jogi wasted a precious 24 hours there and could resume his advance only at first light on 9 December.
With the occupation of Gaibanda and the ferry, the Pakistani troops were denied an escape route. Simultaneously, other task forces which had contacted the Pakistani defences east of the Karatoya in Ghoraghat area, cleared the opposition on the home bank of the river”¦
By that time another battalion had been fetched up, and by lifting 6 Guards from the bridgehead he divided these two battalions and his armour into four composite task forces. The infantry being carried on tanks, these highly mobile and hard-hitting groups swept the entire countryside in no time. Sadhullahpur was occupied at 1000 hours and Palasbari captured by midday. Except for odd nuisance mines, there was no organised resistance.
On 10 December, news was received that the Pakistani garrison in the Rangpur-Saidpur area was expected to withdraw across the Jamuna towards Dacca. To thwart such an eventuality, Joginder Singh ordered a roadblock to be set up in the area of Gaibanda. The town was occupied at 1600 hours on 10 December. His men moved the same day across to the Phulchari ferry, where they destroyed the jetties and uprooted the rail track serving it. With the occupation of Gaibanda and the ferry, the Pakistani troops were denied an escape route. Simultaneously, other task forces which had contacted the Pakistani defences east of the Karatoya in Ghoraghat area, cleared the opposition on the home bank of the river by 1730 hours.
Attention now turned towards the main task of capturing Bogra. The immediate objective was Gobindganj, a small town lying along the Rangpur-Bogra highway south of the Karatoya. The Air Force had reported that the river obstacle and the town were held by a weak battalion with some tanks and guns. After leaving strong firm bases in the general area of Pirganj, Laldighi Bazaar and Chandipur to meet any threat from the Rangpur side, Joginder Singh decided to tackle the Gobindganj defences by pushing one combat group along the main highway to exert pressure from the north while the second combat group, comprising one armoured regiment less a squadron and an infantry battalion less a company, was to make a wide outflanking movement over some 56 kilometres to tackle the defences from the south and southeast.
The Pakistani garrison tried to escape, but was trapped by Joginder Singhs block at Kamar. The whole operation was a brilliant envelopment manoeuvre, boldly executed by 340 Mountain Brigade Group
The advance on both axes started at 1100 hours on 11 December. Contact was made about midday on the highway. The outflanking column crossed the river in the east in the Kajla area, where it split in three. One group moved south to establish a roadblock in the area of Kamar along the highway, and the other two moved independently to tackle the defences from the south and southeast. The advance elements reached the crossroads immediately south of the town without detection.
The Gobindganj garrison was taken completely by surprise, but put up determined resistance. Night fell, and fighting continued throughout it. The position was mopped up by T-55 tanks giving fire support at night, using an infrated sighting system. By the first light of 12 December, Gobindganj was in Indian hands. In this action, 340 Mountain Brigade Group killed 90 Pakistanis and captured 12 other ranks in addition to a booty of five 105-mm guns, three Chaffee tanks, 35 vehicles of sorts, and about 20 odd truckloads of gun ammunition, a large dump of mines and some anti-tank guns. It appears that this position was under preparation for occupation by a battalion group, but when attacked it was manned by an assortment of five companies from odd units. The Pakistani garrison tried to escape, but was trapped by Joginder Singh’s block at Kamar. The whole operation was a brilliant envelopment manoeuvre, boldly executed by 340 Mountain Brigade Group, and it paid good dividends.
The advance was resumed at 1130 hours the next day by 69 Armoured Regiment and 5111 Gorkha Rifles group along the highway to Bogra. Contact was made with the Pakistani defences holding the Ichhamati river by the same evening. The northern bank was soon cleared, and on discovering a gap in the Pakistani defences a company was infiltrated to establish a roadblock in the rear before tackling the main defences. The company on the way to the road lock accidentally stumbled on the battalion headquarters. They took it by surprise and captured Maj Mohammed Ajmal, the officiating commanding officer, the adjutant and the regimental medical officer of 32 Baluch.
They also destroyed the communication links with their forward troops, thus disrupting the entire Pakistani command and control structure in the area. The Ichhamati position was cleared by midday on 13 December, and a detachment which hurried to capture the bridge over the Karatoya at Mahasthian the next morning caught Pakistani engineers in the act of priming demolition charges. A couple of them were shot and the others fled. The bridge was captured intact.
…destroyed the communication links with their forward troops, thus disrupting the entire Pakistani command and control structure in the area. The Ichhamati position was cleared by midday on 13 December…
The Pakistanis had prepared defences for a company or so as a strong delaying position, but they did not get the chance to occupy it either because of the speed of the Indian advance or the general lack of troops in the area, as the troops holding the Hilli complex had not fallen back by then. The brigade claimed about 97 killed in both actions, but produced small arms worth only about a platoon or so as booty. It may be assumed that both positions were held by remnants of 32 Baluch elements falling back from Pirganj.
The 340 Mountain Brigade Group operations in the rear areas had by then outflanked the Hilli complex defences. It had forced the Pakistanis to withdraw their troops to hold their sensitive areas in depth. As a result, the forces at Hilli had been gradually thinned and withdrawn to Bogra. Exploiting this thinning process between 10 and 12 December, 66 Mountain Brigade advanced and occupied Ghoraghat. After a stalemate of about 20 days, 202 Mountain Brigade had cleared Hilli and having linked with 66 Mountain Brigade had advanced along the Ghoraghat-Saidpur-Khetlal axis. It captured the town of Khetlal after a sharp action.
Originally, this brigade group was to have advanced towards Bogra and helped Joginder Singh in reducing the garrison there. This became all the more necessary as Headquarters Eastern Command asked for the release of 340 Mountain Brigade Group after the fall of Bogra for induction across the Jamuna to reinforce the thrusts converging on Dacca. But this plan had to be changed for two main reasons. Orders came from the higher command for the transfer of the T-55 squadron allotted to the brigade.
The Pakistanis had prepared defences for a company or so as a strong delaying position, but they did not get the chance to occupy it either because of the speed of the Indian advance or the general lack of troops in the area
Bhatti was reluctant to advance without support from armour, and any regrouping of armour from the Pirganj-Bogra axis would have resulted in inordinate delay. The argument was however put forward that the Khetlal-Bogra road had been badly damaged and this would delay the advance to the extent that Bhatti would not be in time to join Joginder Singh in the reduction of Bogra. In any event, 340 Mountain Brigade Group made such rapid progress that Bhatti’s encircling movement was considered infructuous. 202 Mountain Brigade was then ordered to concentrate in the general area of Ghoraghat as a divisional reserve. Meanwhile, by the evening of 13 December, 165 Mountain Brigade had also progressed towards the south of Hilli and had occupied Panchbibi and Jaipurhat unopposed.
Bogra was reported to be held by Baluch with some artillery and tanks in support, although the exact dispositions were not known. Pakistan 205 Infantry Brigade Headquarters were also to move to the town, but whether it had already reached it was not known as on the previous day the Brigadier had visited the detachment holding the Ichhamati river and given them a pep talk. Emboldened by his earlier success, Joginder Singh rapidly moved along the highway and encircled the town from all directions on the night of 13/14 December. He outflanked the town with a combat group and established two blocks in the south along the Sirajganj-Bogra and Singra-Bogra roads. 2/5 Gorkha Rifles worked its way with one squadron of armour along the highway from the north, clearing the city block by block and house by house up to the railway line. At the same time, two battalions tackled the town, one from the south, using the road-blocks as their firm base, and the other from the northeast. The area north of the railway line was cleared by 1300 hours, although the Pakistani defences on the rail embankment were still active. The divisional and brigade headquarters also fell into Indian hands. The town was surrounded by a tight cordon and the position of the Pakistanis was hopeless. The capture of Bogra was an inounced at that time although isolated pockets continued to hold out.
Large numbers of Pakistani troops gave themselves up. They reported that Headquarters 205 Infantry Brigade, along with elements of 4 FF, 13 FF and Baluch, were bottled up in the town. The tight cordon drawn by Joginder Singh foiled all attempts at escape. The relentless pressure of the Indian mopping up operations and the psychological affect of the encirclement, coupled with the frequent appeals by loudspeaker to Pakistani soldiers to surrender had some effect, but on the whole the resistance continued till the first light of 16 December.In all five officers, 56 JCOs, 1,613 other ranks and 33 civilians surrendered in the town. Three large ammunition dumps, one supply depot, one workshop and about 500 numbers of small arms, ten guns and five Chaffee tanks fell into Indian hands. It appears that although this position was meant to be held by brigade strength it was actually held by only one battalion and elements of other units which managed to withdraw from forward positions when they fell.
By 14 December, Pakistani resistance in Bogra was crumbling and the potential threat from the south was completely eliminated. It was then decided to capture Rangpur. Plans were made for a two pronged attack on this town by Sharma and Bhatti simultaneously, along the Mitapukar-Rangpur and Mitapukar-Nasirabad-Fatepur-Rangpur axes. Sharma secured Mitapukar by midday on 15 December and reached the outskirts of Rangpur town by the time the ceasefire became effective on 16 December. The start of Bhatti’s advance was held up by perpetual delays in regrouping armour.
…shows that most of the Pakistani units were up to operational strength and had a considerable potential to continue the war if Niazi had not accepted such an early ceasefire.
At first light on 16 December, Bhatti pushed his advance guard forward to clear minor opposition some distance away, but by the time his main body started moving the ceasefire was announced. Thus Bhatti’s brigade never became effective in the offensive tasks of the division. It appeared as though the spirits of Bhatti’s troops had been sapped in the defensive operations at Hilli.
Some 450 Pakistani officers, 670 JCOs, 16,800 other ranks and 250 enrolled non-combatants surrendered to XXXIII Corps during and after the ceasefire with abut 3,000 rank and file of the paramilitary forces. Unfortunately, the actual figures of prisoners taken in the hostilities are not available, but it is believed that the total was no more than about 2,000. This shows that most of the Pakistani units were up to operational strength and had a considerable potential to continue the war if Niazi had not accepted such an early ceasefire.
The Indian casualties in the sector were 16 officers, 11 JCOs and 344 other ranks killed, 54 officers, 33 JCOs and 874 other ranks wounded. Most of the casualties were suffered in attacks on prepared defences in Hilli and Bhaduria. 340 Mountain Brigade Group, which bore the major burden of winning the war in this sector, suffered only 46 ranks killed and 95 wounded, proving the point that a war of manoeuvre is less costly in attrition.
What contribution did the campaign in this sector make towards the overall collapse of the Pakistan forces in the eastern wing? According to Niazi, he had made up his mind to effect a ceasefire around 12 December.
What contribution did the campaign in this sector make towards the overall collapse of the Pakistan forces in the eastern wing? According to Niazi, he had made up his mind to effect a ceasefire around 12 December. At that time, the leading elements of Thapan’s offensive thrust were near the Ichhamati river delaying position, well away from the Bogra defences where Nazar Hussain Shah was to give battle to the already overstretched 20 Mountain Division. Niazi testified later that the threat to Bogra, or even its eventual capture, was so distant from Dacca, the area of decision, that Thapan’s campaign had a very insignificant influence on his decision.
Did Thapan capture territory? At the time of the ceasefire, he had captured all territory east of the Atrai river and north of the Balurghat bulge as well as a substantial area of the waistline, but all important towns like Dinajpur, Saidpur, Rangpur, Rajshahi and Nator were still holding out and had the capability of sustained resistance.
Did this campaign achieve the degree of attrition of both manpower and equipment which would cripple the will and potential of the opposing force? Apparently not, as no more than 500-odd rank and file out of a total of some 20,000 who surrendered after the ceasefire fell into Thapan’s hands. The equipment captured or damaged in actual combat was marginal and in no way impaired the Pakistani force commander’s military capability. It would thus be seen that the campaign in the northwestern sector did not make a significant contribution to bringing about Niazi’s collapse.
In the conduct of operations, Thapan failed to exploit his combat power to the full. Of some six brigades employed in his sector after 7 December (after three days of war) only one brigade group was on the offensive, the other five remaining on the defensive and laying siege to the Pakistani town fortresses.
Why was this so? The failure lies in the ambiguity of the tasks allotted to Thapan by his Army Commander. These tasks were to secure the general area of Thakurgaon, Dinajpur and Hilli and cut the Hilli-Gzibanda waistline by D plus eight days and then, the situation permitting, be prepared to converge on Rangpur or Bogra. It is difficult to discern what the Army Commander was trying to achieve. Did he intend to ensure added security to the Siliguri corridor? With about division strength already deployed in the corridor, no such assurance was warranted. In any event, Shah was not capable of mounting such an operation in the direction of the corridor with the Indian division plus strength deployed in the Balurghat bulge threatening his waistline.
Was the Army Commander’s intention to prevent the whole of Pakistan 16 Infantry Division or the major part of it from falling back on Dacca? Then the early capture of the ferries at Phulchari, Serajganj and Beraghat should have been planned, and not only that portion which fell north of the waistline. Did the Army Commander intend to push Thapan’s thrust across the Jamuna towards Dacca? Certainly not at the time of initial planning, but it appears that he had some after-thoughts.
Between 12 and 15 December, when Dacca presented an easy target, the Army Commander made frantic but futile efforts to move one brigade group with some tanks and medium artillery across the river. The only ferry site Thapan’s troops captured, that at Phulchari, had been severly damaged by air and ground action and was unusable. The other sites at Serajganj and Beraghat had not been secured. These were well away from Bogra, where the leading elements were still fighting. But their capture did not form part of the corps’ tasks.
The use of combat groups, consisting of tanks and tank-mounted infantry, enabled him to move faster and reach the Pakistani contingency positions earlier than the troops earmarked to occupy them.
It appears that the Army Commander’s conception of the overall plan, and the contribution to it of each sector, was not directed and dovetailed for its achievement. For instance, the initial planning made no effort to ensure an early link with II Corps at Hardinge Bridge so as to develop a concerted threat towards Dacca from the sector which offered better facilities for such action at that time. And at no time did the Army Commander stress the importance of the tight scheduling of operations so as to finish the war before there was outside political and military intervention and compel the early surrender of the Pakistani forces. It looks as though he vacillated between what he wanted his troops to achieve and his assessment of their capability to do so, and as a result failed to enunciate his war aims. His subordinate commanders and their troops fumbled from objective to objective without any substantial contribution to the overall aim.
In the conduct of operations, Thapan failed to exploit his combat power to the full. Of some six brigades employed in his sector after 7 December (after three days of war) only one brigade group was on the offensive, the other five remaining on the defensive and laying siege to the Pakistani town fortresses. It was only after 12 December, when 340 Mountain Brigade Group had already disrupted the rear areas, that two more brigades became available, but they played a very insignificant part in expediting the end of hostilities. They were rushed to invest the Rangpur fortress, which would have remained within the defensive bars of Pakistan’s basic concepts. But this move of Thapan made no difference at all.
Whatever tangible gains were made in the way of developing the thrust line some 130 kilometres deep in Pakistan territory up to Bogra can be attributed to the decision of Joginder Singh to break away from typical Indian World War II concepts and restore the power of manoeuvre on the battlefield. The use of combat groups, consisting of tanks and tank-mounted infantry, enabled him to move faster and reach the Pakistani contingency positions earlier than the troops earmarked to occupy them.
The Pakistani movement might have been hampered by lack of transport and Indian air supremacy, but Shah did not appear to have even made an effort.
It also allowed prepared defences to be outflanked, encircled and effectively contained while the main thrust developed well behind their rear and unnerved the defenders. Joginder Singh exploited unused routes of ingress and appeared from unexpected directions, mostly from the rear, to deliver his final blow. He also made extensive use of roadblocks to interrupt the Pakistani withdrawal. These highly unorthodox moves by Indian Army standards paid dividends far greater than the resources employed.
The Pakistani defensive posture in the sector did not show much resilience either in concept or execution, and thereby Shah, General Officer Commanding 16 Infantry Division, failed his country and his command. Initially, in pursuance of Niazi’s policy of not allowing any territory to fall into Indian hands, Shah had deployed his troops in the form of strengthened BOPs near the border and for internal security in the inferior to cope with Mukti Bahini operations up to the middle of November. When Indian pressure started building up on the periphery of the border in support of Mukti Bahini to annex weakly held areas, Shah pulled to the prepared town fortress areas, blocking the main routes of Indian ingress in three distinct complexes.
These were the Dinajpur-Saidpur-Rangpur complex in the north, the Hilli-Ghoraghat complex in the centre, and the Bogra-Nator-Rajshahi complex in the south. Approximately one brigade group was stationed in each. All these fortresses were located on nodal points of internal communications and had elaborately prepared and well-coordinated defences. The main routes of ingress into the northwestern sector ran from the north between the Tista and Atrai rivers and were covered by the Saidpur-Rangpur complex, from the Balurghat side between the Dhopa and Bhelmati rivers, which were blocked by the Dinajpur complex; the waist by the Hilli-Ghora- ghat complex; and the approaches from the south through Hardinge Bridge by the Nator and Bogra complexes.
The strength mustered by Joginder Singh at that time was thin, and any spirited, violent and strong reaction on the part of Shah would have put the Indian offensive out of gear.
This posture endowed Shah with the ability to halt the Indian thrusts before they reached sensitive areas in the interior from whichever direction the threat materialised, and after the threat was discerned, to create reserves from the uncommitted complex and frustrate their further progress. But the Pakistani General tailed to comprehend this fully and instead allowed each complex to fight its own battle independently.
After his surrender, Shah boasted that by splitting an infantry company in two he had increased the strength of some battalions so as to occupy more sensitive areas. He also explained how he had dirtributed his divisional headquarters staff and communications to create more ad hoc formation headquarters, and he himself functioned from tactical headquarters comprising no more than three or four vehicles. This was his first mistake, for the dilution of integrated units and ad hocism adversely affected the combat power of the fighting units and achieved nothing more than adding to the number of thinly held defended localities with low potential. This lent itself to defeat in detail.
His second and bigger mistake was not to react strongly after having been ambushed north of Pirganj. Even at the cost of pulling out the entire Rangpur garrison, he should have counterattacked Pirganj, if not the same night at least by first light on 8 December. The strength mustered by Joginder Singh at that time was thin, and any spirited, violent and strong reaction on the part of Shah would have put the Indian offensive out of gear.
Between 8 and 12 December, Thapan could deploy only one brigade group along the Rangpur-Bogra highway and no more. Shah had the option of strengthening the Bogra-Ichhamati complex by moving the brigade from the Nator-Rajshahi complex as by then Hardinge Bridge had been demolished and no threat could possibly materialise to such depth areas. If nothing else, he could have diverted 57 Infantry Brigade from Pakistan 9 Infantry Division, which had become available from the 11 Corps offensive along Hardinge Bridge. Instead, Shah let Tajamul Hussain withdraw his brigade from Hilli and at the same time do battle in the rear areas up to Bogra.
The battle was lost not because the Indians had gained a victory, but because the Pakistani’s had conceded it without even a fight.
As a result only one battalion, earmarked to prepare and look after the rear area defences, opposed 340 Mountain Brigade Group operations throughout. However heroic the actions of 8 Baluch and its commanding officer, they were not equal to containing a brigade group with a regiment of armour. They invariably reached the prepared defences a little too late to be effective. The Pakistani movement might have been hampered by lack of transport and Indian air supremacy, but Shah did not appear to have even made an effort. No determined armies can be completely immobilised by such constraints.
There was also a possibility of mustering a brigade group by denuding the garrisons at Dinajpur, Saidpur and Rangpur to stage a counteroffensive to disrupt the lines of communication serving 340 Mountain Brigade Group, functioning about 65 kilometres from Pirganj. Shah talked vaguely about plans for a limited offensive towards Farakka and Balurghat. The threat to Farakka had been nullified by the Indian occupation of the territory east of the Atrai, but the option to carry Malda-Bansibari in the Balurghat bulge with two brigades available in the south was however still open.
Such an offensive at this juncture, when Thapan’s entire force was committed deep inside East Pakistan, with no reserve nearby to restore the situation, would have paid heavy dividends. It would have forced 20 Infantry Division to withdraw, but Shah was not of the mettle of commanders who use such opportunities in war. There lay Pakistan’s weakness in leadership. The battle was lost not because the Indians had gained a victory, but because the Pakistanis had conceded it without even a fight.
- Progress made by the northern thrust in the northwestern sector was also very slow on account of enemy resistance.