Geopolitics

Untold Heroism of Mukti Bahini Frogmen: Prelude to Liberation - III
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Issue Book Excerpt: War in the Indian Ocean | Date : 01 Jul , 2011

Come September — Retribution and Retaliation: The unstinted support of the local population, which Sir Michael Howard had defined as the ‘forgotten dimensions of strategy’, emboldened the waterborne guerrillas to launch attacks on Pakistani land forces using captured and requisitioned motor launches mounted with infantry weapons provided by the Mukti Fauj forces of Colonel Osmani. The West Pakistani forces had gradually fallen back on their earlier plan of holding vital border outposts to prevent the Mukti Bahini striking from behind their defence lines. Nevertheless, the frogmen chose the riverine environment of the Sunderbans to infiltrate deep into East Pakistan and strike from the rear.

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However, as was the case initially with the land forces, the frogmen who were basically an underwater guerrilla group, suffered heavy losses when they took on the Pakistani patrol boats. 1wenty-one guerrillas perished and severe damage was inflicted on their civilian river craft. A leak in intelligence was suspected particularly as there was a requirement to liase with several local units in the area which was also a concentration area for the Razzakars. The tragedy was even more heartrending as these operations were not within the purview of the frogmen wing of the Mukti Bahini. This heavy loss of life tended to undermine their confidence, which is a major prerequisite for carrying out underwater operations. Moreover, their families could not bury their dead or honour the living for fear of reprisals.’

A leak in intelligence was suspected particularly as there was a requirement to liase with several local units in the area which was also a concentration area for the Razzakars.

The frogmen thereafter restricted their targets to underwater operations. On a moonless night in September, 160 frogmen carried out highly successful coordinated strikes, particularly as the earlier vigilance had slackened primarily due to monotony and boredom for round-the-clock vigilance with no sign of action.

The second attack on Chitta gong was led by Nur Mohamed and Rehman, who were both ex-naval personnel dismissed after the Agartala Conspiracy Case. The other pair were Nazrul Islam and Abdur Rehman. Their launching pad on this occasion was Gupta Island in the middle of the Karnaphuli river. Their primary targets were freighters Al Murtaza and Imtiaz Baksh. Two other vessels, Teviot Bank of UK and the Greek freighter Avlos which were alongside disembarking stores and supplies for the Army were also targeted. Two limpets were attached to each of the above major targets. One explosive was bolted to minor targets such as barges, harbour Claft and pontoons. Lacking adequate resources, on completion of every strike it was necessary to retrieve unused mines in order to maintain adequate quantities for the next strike. This by itself was a hazardous task but was necessary for guerrilla operations. Alan, Ahsannullah, Mondol and Mukherjee attacked the coaster Dwarka, two barges and one tug at Khulna/Chalna ports.

Two other vessels, Teviot Bank of UK and the Greek freighter Avlos which were alongside disembarking stores and supplies for the Army were also targeted.

Mohinuddin Haq, Manzur and Nooruzzaman spearheaded the attack on the river port of Barisal where they sank the coaster Shipta Dingha as also two tugs, one river steamer, one ferry and the buoy laying vessel, Path Finder.

Altaf Mehmood, Hafeez and Swapan led the attack on the inland port of Chand pur and sank one launch, three ferries and a coaster as also a launch and a terminal pantoon at Aricha Ghat. One pontoon and a ferry were sunk at Goalanda Ghat as also three barges in the Gabkhan Channel. At Ashuganj, one coaster was heavily damaged. A ferry was set on fire at Jaganthpur Ghat as all limpet mines and explosives had been expended. At Faridpur, Bura Miah, Mustafa, Zheer and Bachu dressed as police constables had a field day by sinking two passenger launches which included the tourist luxury boat Shikapur Faridon. They also captured three mechanized crafts which they hid in one of the minor tributaries of the river.

The toll in September was 6000 tons of shipping sunk and an additional 17,000 tons damaged. The discrepancy in the total was partly due to the delay in obtaining ‘confirmed kills’ due to the strict censorship in the East. In some cases, the results of an earlier attack were credited to the following month. Moreover, it was natural to exaggerate. The above figures particularly of the large ships were confirmed in due course by Lloyd’s casualty list as the majority of ships were insured with Lloyd’s of London. On the whole, the claims were comparatively accurate although in some cases the vessels which had settled on the bottom were refloated at a later date.

The discrepancy in the total was partly due to the delay in obtaining “˜confirmed kills due to the strict censorship in the East.

The effectiveness of the frogmen’s control over major river routes could also be seen from the order to all vessels to fly the Pakistan flag on. leaving harbour or face a death sentence. But nonetheless all craft lowered their flag when transiting guerrilla-controlled waterways for ensuring their safety as also express their loyalty to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who was awaiting a death sentence in a jail in West Pakistan.

Odyssey of October — The Noose Tightens

The month of Ramzan witnessed yet another coordinated attack by 150 frogmen on East Pakistan ports and inland waterways. On this occasion operations were also shifted to the mighty Meghna river which flows into the sea via the Tetulia. Shahbazpur and Sandwip channels leading into the entrance to Chittagong. The river and its tributaries were choked with weeds and floatsom which provided an ideal cover for frogmen operations.

Mahboob, Sharif, Niranjan, Kazi and Badal spearheaded the third attack against (the main port of Chittagong. The timing of the attack was determined by tides, period of darkness, ship movements and the prevailing security measures in the port.

A single explosion was at times not adequate to sink the bigger coasters which were mostly the newly contracted Chinese vessels being delivered at a faster rate.

The coasters Nasim. Sher Afghan, and Lalsira were sunk. A smaller tanker and two coasters were damaged. Only one limpet mine could be attached to the hulls of these minor targets owing to the strong tides and eddies in the river. Therefore a single explosion was at times not adequate to sink the bigger coasters which were mostly the newly contracted Chinese vessels being delivered at a faster rate.

The security in Chittagong had also been increasingly stepped up. Patrol boats with searchlights, continuous searches of port workers of every shift and strict vigil on loading and unloading ships required more training and discipline from the frogmen, who had by now built up an enviable operational experience to back up their training. Further, these attacks achieved the aim of tying up a large number of soldiers which in turn diffused the strength of the battalions confronting the Mukti Bahini.

In the Barisal area, one coaster was sunk and a depot for buoys and navigational markings was set on fire. Simultaneously, the navigational buoys at Sandwip and Hathia islands were holed Clnd sunk. The buoyage system in the wide rivers is critical for navigating vessel in the narrow navigable channels. Pontoons and ferry terminals at the inland ports of Narayanganj and Naggarbari were destroyed by Samad, Ashfaq, Masund and Khaled who were all former university students and had by now gained adequate experience to plan and mount operations by themselves. Two launches were captured at Harinagar and Jamalpur and taken to Mukti Bahini hideouts.

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Vice Admiral Mihir K. Roy

Vice Admiral Mihir K. Roy

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