A number of battles were fought during the liberation of Bangladesh, but one that was most significant from the point of view of achieving a strategic objective within the required timeframe was the Battle of Gobindoganj in the North Western Sector in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). This battle was a classic example of manoeuver warfare, where both the Armoured Corps and the Infantry exploited terrain, machine and human ingenuity to the optimum. Nowhere in the entire war had such manoeuvers and tactics been applied to achieve such spectacular results. Regrettably, very little has been written about this battle that was penultimate to those of Mahasthan and Bogura. Bogura, a strategic objective for 20 Mountain Division, was captured in nine days by a manoeuver that covered approximately 250 to 300km. This manoeuver can be divided in three parts, Phulbari to Gaibandha, Palashbari to Gobindoganj and from Gobindoganj to Bogura. Had 20 Mountain Division not adopted manoeuver warfare, it may not have been possible to defeat 16 Pakistan Infantry Division. The manoeuver isolated 23 Infantry Brigade in the North, annihilated 205 Infantry Brigade in the Central sub sector and trapped 34 Infantry Brigade in the South in a short time and at low cost.
The North West Sector and its Strategic Importance
The North Western Sector is formed by River Ganges in the West and River Brahmaputra, locally called Jamuna in the East. It includes the areas of Dinajpur, Rangpur, Rajshahi, Pabna and Bogura. It is connected with the South Western Sector by Hardinge Bridge at Pabna and to the Northern Sector by a ferry at Gaibandha/Fulchhari and down South at Sirajganj/Bera.
The North Western Sector was strategically important both to India and Pakistan. The Siliguri-Kishanganj Corridor and the Farraka Barrage on the Indian side were vulnerable to interdiction by Pakistan. It provided the nearest point to the Chumbi Valley for action in collusion by Pakistan and China. To Pakistan, India could easily severe the neck at Hilli and, thereafter, either roll down South or cross the Jamuna river and head for Dacca. This sector was roughly one-third in size of the province. The terrain was flat and fit for cross-country move by tracked vehicles except from mid-May to November due to the monsoons and extensive cultivation. Wheeled vehicles could only move along tracks, but heavy traffic was not sustainable. Besides rivers Jamuna and Teesta, there are numerous rivulets such as the Deepa, Atrai, Karatoya and Mahananda that run North-South, and divide the area into narrow corridors. While small nalas become fordable during winters, the main rivers require bridging to cross them. River Karatoya was the main obstacle that ran almost parallel to the Rangpur – Bogura Highway crossing it at Gobindoganj, and then again North of Bogura near Mahasthan. Ichamati, a branch of this river, also flows somewhat in a similar course.
However, the alignment of these rivers was not accurately marked on the maps and posed navigational problems for us. The road communication on the Indian side was good and permitted vehicular move up to the border. The road network on the East Pakistan side was poor. There was only one all-weather North-South Highway connecting Dinajpur-Rangpur-Bogura-Bera and then over the Jamuna to Dacca. A tarmac road also connected Nawabgang-Rajshahi-Ishurdi-Pabna to Bera. A road connected Palashbari to Gaibandha and another Dinajpur to Phulbari. Tracks that were important to us were Phulbari – Nawabganj – Pirganj/Goraghat; Hilli – Jaipurhat – Naogaon; Joypurhat – Khetlal – Bogura; Bogura – Khetlal – Goraghat and Lashkarhat – Panitola – Nawabganj. The countryside was dotted with villages that were connected by cart tracks. A broad gauge railway line existed from Hardinge Bridge via Ishurdi – Naogaon – Hilli to Parvatipur. A meter gauge also connected Dinajpur – Rangpur – Gaibandha – Bogura – Naogaon; Naogaon – Natore – Rajshahi; Nawabganj – Pabna and Sirajganj. Airports existed at Lalmanirhat and Ishurdi for all types of aircraft. Airstrips fit for light aircraft also existed at Thakurgaon, Saidpur, Rangpur, Bogura and Rajshahi. A majority of the population in this sector consisted of people who had migrated mainly from Eastern UP and Bihar. They were hostile to India and opposed the Bengali’s war of independence. It was apparent that the North West Sector favoured the defender and was important to Pakistan.
16 Pakistan Infantry Division commanded by Major General Nazar Hussain Shah, a devout Muslim from Chakwal, was deployed in the North West Sector. He had considerable military experience with postings to the United States (US), Turkey and Bangkok. However, he was huge in size and easy going; his personality did not inspire command. His HQ was located at Natore.
The North Western Sector was divided into three distinct sub-sectors geographically. The Northern sub-sector consisted of Dinajpur, Saidpur and Rangpur. The Panchagarh – Thakurgaon salient was jutting towards Siliguri. It ran close to the Siliguri corridor and holding it was necessary to tie down the Indian forces as also to coordinate operations with China in a collusion war. 23 Infantry Brigade under Brigadier Shafi was responsible for this sub-sector1. He had occupied Dinajpur, Saidpur and Rangpur with one battalion each; he had also been allotted 29 Cavalry less one Squadron and 48 Field Regiment Artillery.
The Central sub-sector consisted of the waistline Hilli – Goraghat – Palashbari and Gaibandha. Holding it was necessary to avoid India severing the waistline and defeating them piece-meal thereafter. 205 Infantry Brigade commanded by Brigadier Tajummul Hussain Malik2 defended the axes Hilli-Goraghat and Hilli–Joypurhat-Naogaon/Bogura. 4 FF was deployed at Hilli, 13 FF at Joypurhat and 8 FF at Bhaduria and Goraghat. 80 Field Regiment Artillery was in direct support. 32 Baluch with two troops – 29 Cavalry ex 34 Infantry Brigade was allotted to 205 Infantry Brigade and deployed hurriedly at Gaibandha and subsequently, at Palashbari, Gobindoganj and Mahasthan, when the Indian Army captured Pirganj and was heading for Palashbari and Gaibandha.
The Southern sub-sector consisted of important communication centres of Rajshahi, Bogura and Pabna. It was connected to Jessore and Khulna over the Hardinge Bridge and Dacca by ferry at Bera. It was the shortest approach from Malda to Dacca. It was necessary to hold it strongly or India could hit the underbelly with ease. 34 Infantry Brigade was commanded by Brigadier Naeem of Tamil origin. Most of his family was still in Tamil Nadu. He was responsible to defend the axes Nawabganj–Rajshahi-Pabna and Naogaon-Natore-Pabna. Accordingly, Nawabganj, Rajshahi, Naogaon, Natore and Pabna were developed as defended areas. He was allotted one Squadron ex 29 Cavalry and unspecified artillery.
These Brigades were widely separated and not mutually supportive; reinforcing each other was also difficult due to indifferent land communications. The Divisional Sector was allotted 18,000 East Pakistan Civil Armed Force personnel that included Industrial Security Force and Razakars. They were holding around 70,000 303 rifles among them3. Each battalion was adequately stocked with rations, fuel, ammunition and other ordnance stores for a period of four weeks. They had also kept a central reserve of these items at the Brigade HQ. This was based on the presumption that the war will not last for more than 30 days and was enough to hold the Indian Army with a shallow penetration, when it ended.
Pakistan’s Concept of War
As a concept, the Pakistan Army believed that the defence of East Pakistan4 lay in West Pakistan. Operations in East Pakistan were only to hold out and tie down a substantial number of Indian formations while the enemy would be defeated on the Western front. The war fighting by Lt Gen Niazi was based on this philosophy and till the end, he banked on a Pakistan victory in the West or an intervention by China and the US to save East Pakistan. Out of various options available to Niazi, he adopted the forward posture with a deployment in depth by eight to nine battalion reinforcements promised by the Pakistan Army Headquarters (AHQ). This also fulfilled the desire of AHQ of not losing any territory to the Indian Forces to declare an Independent Bangladesh on the soil of East Pakistan. However, General Niazi got only five battalions of the promised reinforcements and he eventually fought the war deployed in forward posture. His concept of Defence5 envisaged defence based on different layers that would augment each other to cause unacceptable attrition on the attacking forces. He thus ordered his forces to create strong nodes as far as forward covering all the axes and delay the attackers as much as possible.
The second line of defence was based on fortified small towns and communication centres. The third line of defence was based on main towns and communication centres. This line of defence was also designated as “no penetration line” and troops were not allowed to withdraw from there. He had also ordered that no position was to be vacated unless a unit defending it had suffered 75 percent casualties. With this term of reference, units were not withdrawn to second or third line of defence in time while they had been by-passed. Niazi and the Pakistan Army were convinced through battle indicators, intelligence reports and perhaps deception by India that the Indian Army was unlikely to resort to an all out war6 and would be content to nibble some territory in support of the rebel cause. This reinforced their conviction that the forward posture was the best option to fight the war.
India’s War Strategy
It can be presumed that initially, India would have had limited objectives7 to carve out a few enclaves on East Pakistan territory for rehabilitation of refugees and setting up of an independent Government of Bangladesh. As the magnitude of the problem increased and Pakistan adopted an uncompromising policy, it was evident that India’s involvement may have to be deeper than imagined. It also became evident that nothing less than an independent Bangladesh would satisfy the Bengalis; any half measures would only create more problems for India in the future. Thus, Dacca8 was the final objective and the centre of gravity of the campaign.
Based on AHQ directive, plans were made by HQ 33 Corps for operations in the NW Sector and 20 Mountain Division was allotted the task. However, it was clear that some additional troops would be required to keep the Pakistani Brigade in the Northern Sub-Sector tied down while the major force would try to cut the waistline. The town of Hilli would have to be captured at some stage to open the axes Ghoraghat-Gaibandha/Joypurhat-Bogura. Operations towards Bogura and Rajshahi were important to link up with the South Western Sector. Major General Lachham Singh9, GOC, was not happy with the initial tasking and method of execution of the plan given to him. However, the Army HQ suggested an improved plan10 under which only three thrust lines were to be developed.
One brigade was to operate along Islampur – Rurea – Thakurgaon – Atrai axis to secure the Siliguri corridor. A second to move along the Phulbari – Nawabganj – Palashbari to protect the Northern flank of the main Divisional thrust with flexibility to reduce Rangpur or Bogura as the opportunity arose. The main divisional thrust was to be developed along the Hilli – Joypurhat – Bogura road and the Balurghat – Panitola – Naogaon – Bogura axes. They felt that these two mutually supporting thrusts would divide the enemy to piece-meal destruction. This would also influence operations in the South Western sector. The GOC was sandwiched between contrasting personalities11 of Lt Gen JS Arora, the Army Commander and Lt. Gen. ML Thapan, the Corps Commander. The plans were finalised by October. One brigade was to advance from Panchagarh and contact Dinajpur from the North. The second brigade was to capture Dinajpur from the South. The first brigade was to capture Rangpur and the second brigade to advance to Palashbari and capture Gaibandha. The third brigade was to capture Hilli and then link up at Gaibandha. The fourth brigade was to establish a firm base for the operations. The Division was eventually allotted 71 Mountain and 340 Infantry Brigades in addition to three integral brigades, 3 Armoured Brigade with two regiments less a squadron and a full engineer Brigade to execute the task. 9 Mountain Brigade was also released to protect the Siliguri corridor when other formations were required to capture Rangpur.
Both countries mobilised their forces by October 1971 as there was no scope left for reconciliation. The Mukti Bahini12 intensified its operations and targeted Pakistani lines of communications, ambushed convoys and attacked other vulnerable targets. They created a sense of insecurity among the Pakistani garrisons. Cross-border firing by artillery and shallow intrusions by own patrols took place. The Indian Army launched preliminary operations at five places to test Indian battle preparations, the Pakistani defenses and create launch pads for further operations. The battle of Dhalai was fought between October 28 and November 02; the battle of Byara was fought between November 17 to 22; the battle of Hilli from November 22 to 24; the Belonia bulge from November 23 to December 01; the battle of Akhaura from December 01 to 03, 1971.
A number of valuable lessons were learnt from these operations and plans modified accordingly. It was realised that the idea of conventional attacks against well-fortified defences was foolhardy and the concept of ‘leave the highways and take the by-ways’ was evolved. On the Pakistan side, their perception of forward posture was reinforced by Indian conventional attacks on fortified defences of Dhalai, Hilli and Akhaura where Indians suffered a large number of casualties without much success.
Progress of Operations
The war commenced on December 04, 1971, and by December 06, the Mountain Brigade in the North had made steady progress by capturing the Panchagarh – Thakurgaon salient and had advanced up to North of Dinajpur.13 66 Mountain Brigade advanced through the gap between Hilli and Dinajpur, contacted Dinajpur from the South and reached Fulchhari – Nawabganj by December 06, but lost momentum thereafter. 202 Mountain Brigade was to advance North of Hilli and link up with 66 Brigade at Charkai for operations towards Palashbari-Gaibandha. However, it failed to do so till December 12, when Hilli finally capitulated.
The Manoeuver War
165 Mountain Brigade remained in the firm base guarding the Balurghat bulge till December 12, 1971. The GOC, thus, had no option but to reel in 340 (I) Infantry Brigade at Malda to take over the advance from Nawabganj onwards to Palashbari – Gaibandha. 100 Field Regiment and 13 Engineer Regiment were also grouped with this force. 6 Guards and 5 Garhwal Rifles were to follow in the wake of their advance. The advance commenced on December 07 with 2/5 GR mounted on tanks of 69 Armed Regiment while 5/11 GR speed marched on foot. A column of 2/5 GR and 69 AR reached Laldigi Bazzar Road crossing by 1600 hours and interdicted the Rangpur – Bogura highway. They ambushed a vehicle convoy of the enemy at 1645 hours. The main column reached Pirganj and took up defences by last light.
The prisoners captured in the ambush revealed that the convoy belonged to GOC, 16 Pakistan Infantry Division who was returning to his HQ at Natore after an operational conference with Commanders, 23 and 205 Infantry Brigades. A marked map of Pakistani deployment was also retrieved from the GOC’s jeep. After the ambush, some of the escapees made it to Rangpur and informed the garrison of this encounter. They feared that the GOC had been killed. It was then decided between the Commanders of 23 and 205 Infantry Brigades to launch immediate counter attacks to remove the roadblocks at Laldigi Crossing and Pirganj. The GOC with a few men hid in the bushes till it was dark and then escaped on foot to Rangpur. He was later traced half way to Rangpur and evacuated. While the Commander, 205 Infantry Brigade was able to join his Brigade by first light of December 08, the GOC was flown out in a helicopter on December 09. Brigadier Tajjamul had skirted Pirganj from the East and met CO, 32 Baluch at Gaibandha whom he ordered to remove the roadblock as soon as possible. After this, he proceeded via Palashbari to join his HQ.
5/11 GR covered a distance of 39 km in 12 hours. A Company under me, and D Company under AS Mamik relieved troops of 2/5 GR at Laldigi Crossing around midnight. Immediately thereafter, a counter attack by the enemy consisting of two companies supported by a troop of tanks was launched. There was intense firing for about 30 minutes from both sides. We fired 57 mm Recoilless Rifles on the enemy tanks under flares of two-inch Mortars. The tanks of 69 Armed Regiment also joined the firefight. The battlefield was lit with tracers and flashes of explosives. The attack was defeated and the enemy withdrew. During the night, 5/11 GR consolidated at the crossroads while 2/5 GR took up defences at Pirganj.
The Commanding Officer of 32 Baluch, Lt Col Raza Sultan Mahmood, reacted immediately to the orders of his Commander to evict the enemy from Pirganj, without any reconnaissance or adequate information. He attacked a well-entrenched 2/5 GR at Pirganj at first light of December 08. The counterattack failed miserably, and he along with seven men, was killed. After the war, it was revealed by Major General Nazar Hussain that, as per their assessment, Indian troops were unlikely to penetrate up to Pirganj for quite some time due to absence of an axis of maintenance and our embroilment in Hilli and Badhuria complexes. Thus, there was no need to reinforce Pirganj. However, our ambush at Laldigi Bazaar surprised them. Still, the gravity of the situation was not realised and they felt that it was a raiding force. The idea of a main Divisional thrust on this under-developed axis never occurred to them. The whole of December 08 was spent in consolidating at Laldighi Bazaar Crossing as the Division expected severe and ferocious reaction by the enemy. But there was none, as the enemy command and control appeared to have been paralysed in the absence of their GOC. Commander, 205 Infantry Brigade, however, reinforced Bhaduria and Ghoraghat with two companies each from 8 FF and withdrew 32 Baluch from Gaibandha to prepare defences at Gobindoganj.
The options with GOC 20 Mountain Division on December 08 were to either swing North to reduce the defences of Rangpur or cross the Jamuna at Gaibandha/Fulchhari and advance to Dacca or turn the enemy’s flank by advance South to Bogura and defeat him piece-meal thereafter. On December 08, when it was clear that our build up at Pirganj was strong enough for further operations, the GOC gave out his brief plan for the capture of Bogura, which was his main task. 202 Mountain Brigade was to capture Hilli and link up with 66 Mountain Brigade at Ghoraghat for operations towards Bogura. 66 Mountain Brigade was tasked to capture Bhaduria and then advance to Goraghat and link up with 340(I) Infantry Brigade that was to capture Gobindoganj and advance to Bogura.
340(I) Infantry Brigade left 2/5 GR and 5 Garhwal Rifles to hold the defences at Pirganj and protect the flank while the rest of the Brigade commenced advance to Gobindoganj on December 09. 69 Armoured Regiment led the advance with 6 Guards mounted on tanks. By 1100 hours, Palashbari was captured. The column was diverted to Gaibandha to intercept the enemy withdrawing from Rangpur to Bogura via Gaibandha on orders of the Corps HQ. Gaibandha was captured without resistance. A column of 5 Garhwal Rifles with tanks from Saidullapur also linked up with them. Thus, the waistline from Hilli to Gaibandha had been severed. The force in their enthusiasm destroyed the Jetty, an error that was regretted later when there was a need to reinforce the Northern Sector for the race to liberate Dacca.
5/11 GR was relieved by 5 Garhwal Rifles at 0900 hours on December 09, and was asked to concentrate at Palashbari by 1300 hours. On reaching Palashbari, the Battalion was tasked to capture Ghoraghat if possible, otherwise establish a firm base on the East bank of River Karatoya. C Company 5/11 GR was to take up defences at Palashbari to prevent any enemy reinforcements from Gobindoganj. Our advance commenced at 1340 hours on December 09 with D Company mounted on tanks of 69 Armoured Regiment and the rest of the battalion in vehicles. D Company contacted the enemy just before last light. It was estimated that the two enemy companies were dug in on both the banks of the river. Enemy defences based on the Eastern bank of River Karotya were captured by last light of December 10. During this operation, three Other Ranks were killed and Maj N Bhasin, along with three Other Ranks, was wounded. The air and artillery had played a vital role in this attack. At 0800 hours on December 11, the Battalion was asked to concentrate at Palashbari leaving D Company under Maj AS Mamik to hold the East bank till relieved by 2/5 GR for advance to Gobindoganj. Since the East bank was fully secured and part of the West bank was also under our control, the enemy could not interfere with our operations towards Bogura. It was thus decided to contain enemy forces to be reduced by 66 Mountain Brigade after the capture of Bhaduria.
Palashbari was already under 6 Guards and their leading elements had encountered opposition at Gobindoganj. Therefore, it was imperative to capture Gobindoganj at the earliest. The enemy defences at Gobindoganj were based on the South bank of River Karatoya and held by 32 Baluch who had withdrawn from Gaibandha on December 08. While some of the defence works had been constructed earlier, majority were prepared hastily in the past two days. They had laid mines on the Northern side of the river to deter a tank assault. The bridge over the river had been demolished. A Squadron of 63 Cavalry (T-55 tanks) under Major Bhaskar Nair that was leading the advance, was hit by anti-tank mines while probing gaps in the defences. They also came under effective tank and RCL fire, indicating the presence of tanks and a coordinated defence.
The Battle of Gobindoganj
GOC 20 Mountain Division14 had expected both 66 and 202 Mountain Brigades to capture their objectives and advance towards Gobindoganj by December 10. Their move would have avoided crossing River Karatoya that was holding the advance of 340(I) Infantry Brigade. But this did not happen as Bhaduria was captured by 66 Mountain Brigade by the evening of December 11, and Hilli capitulated to 202 Mountain Brigade on December 12. A hasty assault on the enemy by 6 Guards was fraught with heavy casualties with no guarantee of success. A deliberate river crossing operation would be time-consuming allowing the enemy to reinforce Bogura by troops withdrawing from Hilli and Bhaduria. Therefore, it was decided to outflank Gobindoganj from the East by a mechanised column and attack from the South East – a most unexpected direction. (Refer to Sketch)
A combat Command consisting of 5/11 GR and 69 Armoured Regiment was formed with 64 Mountain Regiment, 44 Medium Gun Battery, 115 Light Gun Battery and 52 Engineer Regiment in support. It was expected that two enemy companies were deployed astride road Palashbari – Gobindoganj on the Southern bank of River Karatoya. They were effectively dominating the Northern bank. Manoharpur and Rampur road junctions were also occupied by one company each including the engineers. They were supported by one troop of Chaffee tanks and one field battery 105 mm guns. 32 Baluch HQ was located at Gobindoganj crossroads. A Company under me was grouped with C Squadron under Major SC Mehra15 to lead the outflanking manoeuver. We mounted the PT 76 tanks and set off for our task just before mid-day.
The route chosen was Palashbari – Shahapara – Nakal – Kajla Ferry Crossing along the West bank of the river to Sripatipur – Shahapara. From Shahapara, our combat team was to peel off and establish a roadblock at Kamar Road Track Junction. The reconnaissance troop of 69 Armoured Regiment moved ahead with Mukti Bahini personnel who successfully secured the crossing place at Kajla. In addition to them, an artillery observation post was established at Magura with the help of Mukti Bahini that effectively engaged the enemy with intermittent fire. We crossed River Karatoya some eight to ten kilometres downstream and East of Gobindoganj at a place called Kajala at 1330 hours, and reached Shahapara by 1500 hours. Thereafter, while the Battalion and rest of 69 AR moved West to Gobindoganj, our combat team moved South-West to lay a roadblock at Kamar on the Gobindoganj – Bogura road. We were in position by 1600 hours.
This manoeuver of approximately 55 to 60 km was remarkable in that it exploited the capability of men and machines to the maximum in the battle that was to follow. This was the only instance in the whole campaign where mobile warfare actually came into play as a game changer. The PT 76 tanks swam through the water obstacles, waded through the marshes and negotiated soft ground at full throttle at some places. The tank ride was arduous, bumpy and many of the men latched precariously to the machine were tossed around and some even thrown off. Since this was the most unexpected route, there was no sign of the enemy and we remained undetected. While this manoeuver was executed, 6 Guards and 63 Cavalry, especially troops under Lt HM Singh kept up the pressure on the enemy from the North bank of River Karatoya.
When the attack came from the rear by B Company under Capt PB Singh with the tanks in support, the enemy was completely surprised and perplexed as they were not prepared for an attack from the rear. The enemy brought down artillery, anti-tank, and MMG fire on the assaulting troops. However, his resistance weakened under the weight of our artillery and tank fire as well as determined assault by the infantry. He started abandoning his defences in the confusion that followed. Command and control collapsed and panic gripped him. The aim of the enemy was only self-preservation to escape death and destruction. B Company had captured the Road Junction by 1700 hours but Capt PB Singh had been seriously injured. C Company under Capt GS Pathania was also launched immediately thereafter. Both these companies were tasked to clear all area West and East of the road.
The enemy was in rout when the troops of 5/11 GR were closing in on the objective and charged from their rear. The enemy had no inkling that A Company 5/11 GR and C Squadron 69 Armoured Regiment were waiting for them at a roadblock. Around 1800 hours, an enemy convoy that was withdrawing, entered the kill zone of the roadblock. It consisted of tanks, artillery guns and many trucks. Suddenly, hell was let loose on them both by our tanks and my Company. We were deployed in the shape of an inverted horseshoe towards Gobindoganj and the enemy had no chance of breaking through. The whole area was full of exploding vehicles, fire, tracers and fleeing men. The withdrawing enemy abandoned their tanks, guns and vehicles to escape on foot.
One of the enemy parties trying to break through the roadblock, fired at my position and bullets whizzed past me, perforating my trousers. I narrowly escaped injuries by these bullets. The approaching darkness, sugarcane fields and groves came to rescue of some of the fleeing enemy and many were lucky to escape while some hid in the groves and sugarcane fields. Perhaps 50 to 60 enemy troops may have been killed in this ambush while their tanks, guns and vehicles stood abandoned. We did not care to count or collect the bodies in this violent action. We did not also bother to take any prisoners. As darkness fell, the tanks were withdrawn in the inner circle for protection while my company took up the defence on the outer perimeter. Lt Y Babu Rao who was Battalion Intelligence Officer, came riding one of the PT 76 with a section to link up with me. Since I was coordinating the night defence between the tank squadron and my company, he joined me in one of the perimeter platoons.
As we were walking back, one of the enemy parties hiding in the bushes, fired at us. The automatic fire came right in my face and hit my helmet, grazing my neck and ears. My helmet rattled violently. I intuitively hit the ground for cover and thought for a moment that this was the end for us. Several bursts went over my head as the entire perimeter including the tanks had now opened fire. After a while, the firing died down gradually. When all clear was sounded, I got up and so did my runner and radio operator, but there was no trace of Babu Rao. After searching for a while, he was found lying some yards away from us. We thought that he had not heard the all-clear signal and one of the jawans shook him by the shoulder. As he tried to get up, his intestines fell out and he slumped lifelessly to the ground, face down. The enemy burst had caught him in the stomach before he could take position. That night, we lost a very bold and fine officer.
I sent his body back to the Battalion on the same tank that he had come in, to link with me. The next day, he was cremated with full honours, and after the war, his ashes and belongings were handed over to his widowed mother and sister at Hyderabad by Lt ND Shrief. At this juncture, I thought I needed rest as my head and right ear were throbbing with pain. I took off my helmet to wipe off the sweat that had soaked my neck and was trickling down the spine. My palm felt sticky and in the dim torchlight, I saw it was smeared with blood. Rfn Manbadur Limbu, after inspecting my head and neck, told me that I had been wounded in the right forehead and right ear. He removed the shrapnel that was lodged in my forehead and after cleaning the wound administered first aid. I informed Lt Col FT Dias about my injuries, but declined to be evacuated till morning. The nursing assistant injected morphine and I felt better. In the morning, I realised that my helmet had taken the burst at an angle that had saved me. The bullets had perforated the sides and the brim with splinters injuring me in the forehead, upper ear and lobe. Blood had coagulated around the injuries. My scarf and collar of the shirt had been perforated by bullets on both sides and were smeared with dry blood. I had miraculously escaped death!
The Regimental Medical Officer evacuated me to the ADS where I saw many casualties with severed limbs and multiple wounds awaiting treatment and further evacuation. I was only a walking wounded casualty. Our RMO Capt KRC Prasad, who had accompanied me, assured me that he would take care of me better than the hospital. I thus rejoined my Company. In this operation, an officer and three jawans were killed and two officers, a JCO and seven jawans had been wounded. We had killed 80 enemy soldiers and taken 40 prisoners. Two Chaffee tanks were destroyed and four captured in addition to two 105 mm guns being destroyed and five captured. 60 troop carrying vehicles and 15 vehicles carrying ammunition and stores had also been captured. Interrogation of prisoners revealed that the defences were held by 32 Baluch less two companies, one company 23 Punjab Regiment, two troops Chaffee tanks, 60 Field Company Engineers, one Field Battery 80 Field Regiment and 200 EPCAF personnel.
The End Game
This was the boldest and longest manoeuver of the war that resulted in the capture of Gobindoganj at a low cost to us. The advance to Bogura was resumed in the afternoon of December 12 with Lt HM Singh16 of 63 Cavalry leading and 5/11 GR mounted on tanks of 69 Armed Regiment behind them. Enemy opposition at Mahasthan resulted in an attack by infiltration by 5/11 GR where 32 Baluch was annihilated by mid-day of December 13. Eastern Command was hard-pressed to capture Dacca due to the strategic timeframe. They asked 340(I) Infantry Brigade17 to race to Dacca over the Fulchhari/Gaibandha ferry on the Jamuna. Unfortunately, this had been destroyed by 6 Guards on December 09. Thus, it became imperative to capture Bogura at the earliest.
The last manoeuver took place to capture Bogra, the final objective of 20 Mountain Division. Advance commenced in the afternoon of December 13, by 2/5 GR and A Squadron 63 Cavalry to lean on the town from the North and by 6 Guards and 69 Armed Regiment to cut it off from the East and South by a long encircling manoeuver. Both the objectives had been achieved by first light of December 14, but the town could not be captured due to stubborn resistance by the defenders under Brigadier Tajummul Hussain Malik. 4 Madras and 5/11 GR were also launched from the West and South to isolate the target from all directions. The town finally capitulated after two days of bitter and tough fighting at last light of December 15, and the enemy surrendered a day later.
The Division had been allotted 3 Armed Brigade with 63 Cavalry less one squadron and 69 AR. The initial bitter experience of Hilli and lessons learnt in the employment of armour in a conventional and cautious manner up to Nawabganj/Charkai had been absorbed very fast. In order to optimise the potential of both the PT 76 and T-55 tanks, the two had been mixed to form two composite regiments. Thus, 340 Infantry Brigade operated with one squadron of T-55 and two squadrons of PT 76 under regimental HQ of 69 AR. The advance was led by T-55 squadron and the outflanking movements cross-country carried out by PT 76 squadrons with infantry mounted. The enemy was thus trapped by manoeuvers leading to destruction. The enemy opposition from Nawabganj to Bogura was swept aside by intelligently planned and boldly executed manoeuvers. Of the three manoeuvers, the one at Gobindoganj was classic with outstanding results. Once again, it was proved that success is achieved by bold manoeuvers whether it was in North Africa in WW-2, Sinai in 1967, or in the Bangladesh War of 1971.
- Maj Gen Hakeem Arshad Qureshi, The 1971 Indo- Pak War.
- Maj Gen Tajummul Hussain Malik, A Biography. He was commissioned in Rajput Regt in 1946. A rabidly anti India man and fanatic Muslim.
- AAK Niazi, Betrayal of East Pakistan, p. 110.
- Ibid, p. 103.
- Ibid, pp. 83-84.
- Ibid, p. 87.
- Lt Gen JRF Jacob, Surrender at Dacca, pp. 66-67
- Ibid, p. 60
- Maj Gen Lachhman Singh, Indian Sword Strikes East Pakistan, pp. 46-58.
- Maj Gen Sukhwant Singh, Liberation of Bangladesh Vol 1, p. 82.
- Maj Gen Sukhwant Singh, Liberation of Bangladesh Vol 1, pp. 78, 80 and JRF Jacob, Surrender at Dacca, p. 70. According to them relations between Arora and Thapan were strained and they were not on talking terms. Whereas Arora was pliable and would never take a stand to protect his command, Thapan was a professional but conventional and rigid.
- Rafiq Islam, A Tale of Million, pp. 302-305.
- Lt Gen PN Kathpalia, Charge of a Mountain Brigade.
- Lachhaman Singh, Indian Sword Strikes in East Pakistan, p. 124.
- Later Maj Gen SC Mehra, GOC 26 Infantry Division.
- Later Lt Gen HM Singh.
- Maj Gen Lachhaman Singh, Indian Sword Strikes in East Pakistan, pp. 135-136, 138.
Our memories should not be so weak to recall that Indian and West Pakistanis Armies never fought a typical war. It was more like a Naval blockade by the USA and Indian forces fuelling insurgency and a civil war. One the very lad day Indian forces just moved in. Nevertheless, there were some low intensity skirmishes on the border.