No sooner had he gulped down his tea and in the process scalded his tongue, than he thanked his hosts and jumped ashore a minute before explosions blew up the steamer.
Major Khalid Musharraf (later Major General Musharraf) was the Sector Commander of the guerrilla force operating in the Sylhet-Comilla area which had earlier destroyed bridges, roads and railways and thereby seriously disrupted communications from Dacca to Sylhet. Major Zia-ur-Rahman (later President of Bangladesh) was the Sector Commander of the Chittagong-Noakhali region. Major Shafiullah commanded the Mymensingh-Tangail segment. Captain Dutta was holed up in Sylhet. Major Usman was responsible for the Kustia-Jessore seotor and Major Jalil was in charge of Khulna sector. Major Shaukat Ali had his base in the Chittagong hill tracts. Kader Siddiqui or ‘Tiger Siddiqui’ as he came to be known, was the leader of Kader Bahini in the Tangail area.
One amusing incident, if it can be called that, was at Khulna. A frogman who was fixing limpet explosives to a river steamer was detected and challenged. He mumbled that he was a fisherman who had accidentally lost his foothold and was therefore swimming to the bank. He was pulled up on board and in spite of his protestations was given a hot cup of tea in the tradition of seafarers. No sooner had he gulped down his tea and in the process scalded his tongue, than he thanked his hosts and jumped ashore a minute before explosions blew up the steamer.
Attack on Hardinge Bridge, 30 August 1971
While the heat was in the Southern riverine ports and waterways, a group of frogmen transited North to Rajshahi to attack the Hardinge Bridge over which the vital railway link from Kushtia crossed the Padma river midway between Rajshahi and Pabna. This deep penetration group of 13 frogmen reached Rajshahi and then went down the mighty river to Sardah and thence to Charghat and rested at Dadupur Char.
The boat jerked to a stop and the bow momentarily dipped below the waterline because of the strong tide. The bowman panicked and jettisoned the entire chain cable and the boat was carried downstream and secured with difficulty for the night.
Mohamad Quayum, Hussain Kader and Wahid-ul-Islam who belonged to this area managed to, hijack a country boat in which they hid 8 frogmen with 21 Herrick charges. A motor boat towed the craft to Raita Point which was half a mile upstream from the bridge. The country boat thereafter cast off and headed for the centre pillar which they reached undetected at 0100 on the night of 30 August 1971. Two frogmen who were to swim to the opposite pillars of the bridge to secure the craft failed to do so in view of the strong tides. The anchor was therefore dropped directly under the span of the bridge. The boat jerked to a stop and the bow momentarily dipped below the waterline because of the strong tide. The bowman panicked and jettisoned the entire chain cable and the boat was carried downstream and secured with difficulty for the night.
A second attempt was made on the following night at about 10 p.m. The boat hugged the banks and turned round and once again aimed for the centre span notwithstanding the strong current they had witnessed on the previous night. The efforts of six men to secure the boat to the pillar again failed and this attempt was similarly aborted.
On the third occasion when the operation was seemingly successful as they now aimed for the pillar closest to the bank, sentries from the bridge fired at the boat. The frogmen jumped overboard and swam downstream. Meanwhile a Razakar Camp nearby was alerted and both Kadir and Wahid were captured and not seen thereafter. The remaining frogmen hid in the nearby sugarcane fields and reached Bajumera by midnight. Thereafter they damaged the Arani Bridge on the railway route from Abdulpur to Nandangachi and then returned to their estuarine sanctuary. One frogman however elected to remain back retaining his grenade and rifle.
“¦a Razakar Camp nearby was alerted and both Kadir and Wahid were captured and not seen thereafter. The remaining frogmen hid in the nearby sugarcane fields and reached Bajumera by midnight.
The failure to press home the attack on the Hardinge Bridge was in a way due to the inherent feeling that this historic and vital link over the river Padma was national property which perforce had to play an even more important part in the reconstruction of Bangladesh after liberation. In a way, this feeling was reflected when the strike aircraft from Vikrant were briefed during their sorties, not to attack static port facilities such as warehouses, cranes, wharves and other infrastructure which were necessary for operating the port after liberation. The war planes from Vikrant were instead strictly instructed to concentrate only on ships, patrol craft and river traffic in order to prevent the Pakistani forces from fleeing by sea as the Indian Army was closing in on Dacca. This was a different approach to that of the Alliance Forces during the Kuwait operations about two decades later when communication, power and water facilities were selectively destroyed. As a postscript no Pakistani craft escaped other than the gunboat PNS Rajshahi which hugged the coast and reached Penang and was later put on board a freighter and transported to Karachi after the surrender. The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Sikander Hayat, was deservedly awarded the Sitara-i-Jurat.
After each operation, half a dozen frogmen preferred to stay back with their families or were persuaded to join the Mukti Bahini who coveted their explosives as also the leadership qualities of the educated youth. It was perhaps this familiarity with firearms which were retained after the surrender, albeit due to the unsettled conditions, that was one of the reasons for the cult of assassinations which followed in Bangladesh.
The foreign press
In the August annihilation, a total of 16,000 tons of shipping were sunk and another 14,000 tons damaged by the frogmen. This created a stir not only in maritime and insurance circles but also evoked admiration for the so-called non-martial Bengali race for their valour, dedication and selfless sacrifice for their beloved Sonar Bangia. The Dacca correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, Claire Holingworth, holed out in the Intercontinental Hotel at Dacca reported these sinkings which were subsequently confirmed by Lloyd’s Casualty Lists (Lloyd’s Register of shipping casualty return for the period ended December 1971). She described the operations as ‘brilliant’ by adding a column in the Sunday Telegraph on 1 August 1971 that the Pakistan Army destroyed the Christian villages of Loodaria, Nalchota and Lakipara near Dacca. Their crime was the derailment of a train running from Tangi to Arikhold.
Sydney H. Schanberg of the New York Times reported that the Army controlled only five miles of territory on either bank of the Karnalphuli river. He added that the insurgents continued to harass the river traffic, disrupt military movements and prevented the raw jute from reaching the mills. Similarly, the tea estates were badly crippled and Islamabad had to import two million pounds of tea for their own consumption.
The underwater attacks by Mukti Bahini frogmen had serious repercussions on foreign shipping lines who increased their war-risk insurance from five shillings to one pound sterling as also an additional 20 per cent “˜risk pay for the crew.
Murray Sayles of the Sunday Times wrote on 11 July 1971 that the launches of the civil administration which were utilized for food distribution, flood control and other similar requirements were commandeered by the Army and fitted out with machine guns for patrolling the rivers. A small boat belonging to the Pakistan River Service was sunk by a Pakistani gunboat in the centre of the town in full view of hundreds of onlookers for failure to respond with alacrity to the challenge of the gunboat.