Military & Aerospace

Battle of Basantar 1971 War
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Background to the Battle

As the situation kept deteriorating in East Pakistan, Pakistan’s President, General Yahya Khan threatened India with total war. On November 30, 1971, the Government of India received an intelligence report indicating that Pakistan would attack in the west within the next few days. This proved to be correct. The attack came at Chhamb on December 3. It was, preceded by pre-emptive air strikes on Indian airfields. 10 Infantry Division holding Chhamb was planning an offensive of its own. It was totally surprised by the Pakistani attack. A desperate battle for the defence of Akhnoor raged in this sector. Pakistan also, launched an attack on Poonch and 33 Infantry Brigade of 1 Corps had to be sent to reinforce Poonch.

In response to the Pakistani offensive, India decided to launch a counter strike with 1 Corps in the Shakargarh Bulge. A limited offensive was also launched by 26 Infantry Division for capture of the Chicken Neck area. The attacks by both sides in the Western Sector during 1971 war are shown on Map.

Map of Western Sector 1971

1 Corps had concentrated in Samba area by December 2. Its offensive operations were scheduled to commence on the night of December 5/6. The terrain in the area of operation was relatively flat. The only major river was the Ravi. To its west flowed a number of minor rivers, the relevant ones being the Degh Nadi, Basantar Nadi, Karir Nadi and Bein. Communications were under-developed but good in fair weather.

Pakistan’s 1 Corps was responsible for the defence of the area. It was located at Sialkot and had two infantry divisions (15 Infantry Division and 8 Infantry Division) and two independent armoured brigades (8 Independent Armoured Brigade and 3 Independent Armoured Brigade). 15 Infantry Division was deployed from the Chenab to Degh Nadi and was responsible for guarding the approaches to Sialkot. 8 Independent Armoured Brigade was initially located near Chawinda. 8 Infantry Division was responsible for the defence of areas further east including Zaffarwal, Dhamtal, Narowal and Shakargarh along with their approaches. Degh Nadi was the inter-divisional boundary. 3 Independent Armoured Brigade was located in 8 Infantry Division Sector. The defences were well prepared. There was an anti tank ditch along the international border from Sialkot up to Degh Nadi. Thereafter, the Supwal Ditch covered the gap between Degh Nadi and Basantar. All major towns had anti tank ditches which were integrated into belts of defences running from Degh Nadi to Zaffarwal, Dhamtal and further south (Map). Pakistan had also laid’ extensive low density but deep mine fields on the likely approaches.

1 Corps Operations, 1971

1 Corps offensive plan was as under:–

    • The firm bases and defences of the area were to be held by 168 Infantry Brigade ex 26 Infantry Division, 323 Infantry Brigade and 87 Infantry Brigade ex 39 Infantry Division, and 18 Infantry Brigade ex 36 Infantry Division. 62 Cavalry and one armoured squadron ex 14 Independent Armoured Brigade was the armour allotted to the defensive forces at the scale of one squadron per brigade.
    • 36 Infantry Division under Major General BS Alhuwalia was without two of its brigades. It had only one infantry brigade (115) with only two infantry battalions. The Division was not committed to battle till December 12. Thereafter it was deployed along with 2 Independent Armoured Brigade for the Battle of Shakargarh.
    • 39 Infantry Division under Major General BR Prabhu did not have any of its brigades for the operation. One of its brigades had been sent to reinforce Poonch and the other two were deployed for holding the firm base. For its operation 72 Infantry Brigade with four infantry battalions, 2 Independent Armoured Brigade less one armoured regiment and 1 DOGRA (mechanised) were placed under its command along with an artillery brigade for fire support. The Division was given the task of advancing between Basantar and Karir Nadi and capturing Dehlra – Chakra by D plus 2 and thereafter capture Shakargarh.
    • 54 Infantry Division under Major General WAG Pinto had three infantry brigades (47, 74, and 91) and 16 Independent Armoured Brigade less 62 Cavalry, 18 RAJPUTANA RIFLES (Mechanised) less two companies, 90 Independent Reece Squadron (AMX) and two engineer regiments. He also had four medium regiments in addition to the divisional artillery for providing fire support. The task given to the Division was to advance in the area between Degh Nadi and Karir Nadi and capture Zaffarwal – Dhamtalline and then be prepared for the capture of Deoli and Mirzapur.

39 Infantry Division commenced its operations on the night of December 5/6. Pakistan’s border outposts were captured during the night. However, the Division got stuck soon thereafter. The Division was to advance on two thrust lines. One column was to advance by way of Dehlra – Chakra and the other via Khaira – Harhar Khurd – Giddopindi. One group lost its way at night. The armour got bogged down in minefields and was pulled back. No further progress was made on December 6. On December 1, 2 Independent Armoured Brigade was given the task of breaking out across the minefield. However, attempts by 1 DOGRA and 1 Horse to establish a bridgehead failed despite heavy casualties. Failures continued on December 8. Attempts to outflank the position by breaching the minefield failed when one tank was blown up on a stray mine. The commanders panicked and two tanks and trawls used for breaching were abandoned. On December 10, 72 Infantry Brigade captured Harhar Kalan after a well co-ordinated attack. But further progress was held up by another minefield behind the village. Further operations by 39 Infantry Division were given up at this stage. 2 Independent Armoured Brigade was switched to 36 Infantry Division Sector. 36 Infantry Division was now ordered to attack Shakargarh from the east.

Advance by 54 Infantry Division to Basantar

Operations of 54 Infantry Division also commenced simultaneously with those of 39 Infantry Division. The border outposts were captured on the night of September 5/6. The advance commenced on September 6. Pakistan had deployed one squadron of their reconnaissance regiment, 20 Lancers (Chaffee tanks) and one squadron of the divisional armoured regiment, 33 Cavalry (Pattons) along with infantry as covering troops. Pakistani air force was also quite active. 47 Infantry Brigade was ordered to advance and establish a bridgehead in Thakurdwarh – Bart – Dharman area.

16 MADRAS supported by 4 Horse commenced the attack at 0230 hours on December 6. The first enemy opposition was encountered at Bhaironath and Badala Gujran. (Map). Tank and machine gun fire held up the advance. 16 MADRAS put in an attack and the positions were captured by 0700 hours on December 7. In the process, 16 MADRAS captured the first Pakistani prisoner of war, a Chaffee tank and a map showing the layout of mine fields in the area.

Advance of 47 Infantry Brigade

16 MADRAS resumed the advance and soon came upon a deep minefield north of Thakurdwarh. In a calculated risk, the trawling of the minefield was carried out by 405 Field Company along with the trawls of 16 Independent Armoured Brigade in a dust haze before last light. Two centurion tanks were placed at vantage points on the home side of the minefield to provide covering fire. Another centurion tank followed the trawl tanks to provide intimate fire support. While the trawling was going on, “the following tank noticed three enemy tanks in hull down position and opened fire. One enemy tank was immobilised while the others withdrew. The trawling was completed by 1830 hours and a squadron of tanks was inducted into the bridgehead. 405 Field Company had breached a 500-m deep minefield, 5-m. wide in just one hour. This was the first time that trawls breached a minefield. 16 MADRAS now proceeded to attack Thakurdwarh. Two squadrons of 4 Horse were placed under the command of the battalion. The attack was launched and after a hard fight the objective was captured by 2230 hours on December 6. One enemy tank, two machine-guns and a mapcase showing alignment of minefields were captured. 405 Field Company completed the breaching and marking of the minefield by 0200 hours on December 7.

The next objective was Bart. The Commander of 47 Infantry Brigade, which had moved tip to Thakurdwarh, ordered 16 MADRAS to send a combat group to probe Bart and capture it if possible. The combat group left Thakurdwarh at midnight and approached Bari by the west. By 0130 hours December 7, the tanks got bogged down in a nala. However, all except two tanks were extricated and the combat group attacked Bart from the west. The enemy were completely surprised by the speed and direction of attack and fled. Thus Bart was captured before first light of December 7.

The bridgehead was enlarged by the capture. of Dudhwan Kalan by 16 MADRAS with the support of 17 Horse on the night of December 7/8. A squadron of 17 Horse along with a company of 18 RAJPUTANA RIFLES launched a mounted assault and captured Ghamrola the same night. At this stage, the failure of the operation conducted by 39 Infantry Division to capture Dehlra – Charka complex began to effect the operations of 54 Infantry Division. The Pakistanis had a strong pivot position in this area, held by a squadron of armour and an infantry company and began to bring effective fire to bear on to Dudhwan Kalan from the flank. It became imperative for the Division to clear this area. The task was given to 74 Infantry Brigade supported by 4 Horse. While 74 Infantry Brigade was moving and preparing for the attack, 16 MADRAS captured Baber on December 19 and Nakki Gujran across Karir Nadi on December 11. The attacks on Dehlra – Chakra Complex went in on the night of December 10/11. 8 GRENADIERS supported by 4 Horse attacked Chakra from the rear. The enemy fought hard. But the position was captured after a four-hour action. The enemy lost six M 47/48 Patton tanks in the action. Dehlra was captured by 6 KUMAON.

405 Field Company of 9 Engineer Regiment under Major VR Choudhury was switched from 47 Infantry Brigade to 74 Infantry Brigade. It breached a lane through a minefield at Chakra in the face of enemy fire and artillery shelling. While the tanks were being inducted into the bridgehead, one of the tanks crossing the minefield was damaged by enemy fire. This held up the induction. Naib Subedar Doraiswamy, commander of one of the breaching parties, rushed with his men to the immobilised tank in utter disregard for enemy fire and hand breached a detour around the stalled tank. For his gallantry and leadership under fire, Naib Subedar Doraiswamy was awarded the Vir Chakra. At about 0200 hours, the move of armour across the minefield was again disrupted due to a tank getting bogged down in a small nala in the minefield. As an enemy counter attack was imminent, the vehicle-safe lane had to be cleared immediately. Major VR Choudhury personally took up the task of clearing a detour around the bogged down tank. Despite intense enemy fire, he led his men and personally working with them cleared the detour. The traffic in the lane was soon restored and armour and anti tank weapons were inducted into the bridgehead. After this task, 405 Field Company was placed with 17 Horse at Thakarwal for the next phase of action.

91 Infantry Brigade was now given the task of exploiting further south. But its supporting elements and vehicle column came to a halt at about 2030 hours of December 13 on hitting the minefield running from Chakra via Barkhania to Lagwal. 17 Horse assisted in establishing a bridgehead across this minefield. Two lanes were to be breached across this minefield. The Engineer task forces based on 404 and 405 Field Companies ex 9 Engineer Regiment and 372 Field Company ex 5 Engineer Regiment were deployed for the task. 405 Field Company started the breaching with trawls at 2130 hours. The activity was greeted with heavy shelling and work had to be stopped for some time. But as soon as the intensity of shelling reduced, the breaching was recommenced. The lane was ready for armour by 2300 hours and 17 Horse was inducted across the minefield. The regiment made an attempt to force an encounter crossing across Basantar Nadi, north east of Jarpal However due to navigational error and certain other operational considerations, the plans were changed. 17 Horse was now involved in mounted assaults in conjunction with – 18 RAJPUTANA RIFLES (Mechanised) on the built-up areas of Shahzadpur and Ramri. During this period the regiment inflicted a large number of casualties on the enemy. It also suffered a number of casualties due to intense enemy artillery fire and enemy air raids.

91 Infantry Brigade was inducted by first light of December 14. Expecting strong enemy reaction, it proceeded with caution against light opposition and reached Shakargarh – Zaffarwal Road by December 15.

Preparations for the attack across the Basantar Nadi began on December 12. The operation involved turning of enemy defences across Basantar Nadi. A bridgehead was to be established by 47 Infantry Brigade in the Lalial – Gazipur – Barapind area across the Basantar Nadi including the south-east shoulder of the Supwal Ditch. 16 Independent Brigade was to advance from the bridgehead and contact Zafarwal. 74 Brigade was to follow-up and capture the rest of the Supwal Ditch. The east flank of the enemy defences was protected by a 1400 metres deep minefield laid on the bed of the Basantar Nadi.

The task of providing the firm base for the attack was given to 91 Infantry Brigade. By 1600 hours on December 14, 3/1 GORKHA RIFLES captured Jhumbian Manhasan on the east bank of Basantar Nadi against stiff opposition. Little was known of the enemy dispositions across Basantar Nadi.

Relative Strength

Pakistan’s 24 Infantry Brigade having three infantry battalions was responsible for the defence of the Supwal Ditch – Rupo Chak – Jarpal – Barapind area. A company of its Recce and Support Battalion was deployed on the west bank of Basantar Nadi and an armoured regiment less a squadron supported the Brigade. In addition, 8 Independent Armoured Brigade with two armoured regiments and an armoured infantry battalion were available as a part the divisional reserves. Enemy air force was very active and put in 30 sorties against 47 Infantry Brigade on December 15.

47 Infantry Brigade had three infantry battalions, 3 GRENADIERS, 6 MADRAS and 16 MADRAS. It was also allotted 17 Horse and 18 RAJPUTANA RIFLES (mechanised) less two companies for the battle. The artillery support was to be provided by the divisional artillery brigade reinforced by two medium regiments. 3 Field Company of 9 Engineer Regiment was also allotted in support for breaching the minefield with trawls and improving the track through the river bed.

Battle of Basantar, 1971

The Battle of Basantar

The plan of attack of 47 Infantry Brigade was as under (Map):-

    • 16 MADRAS would lead the assault across Basantar Nadi and capture Saraj Chak, Lalial RF, 6r and 5r.
    • Thereafter 3 GRENADIERS were to follow and capture Jarpal and Lohal.
    • 6 MADRAS and 17 Horse were to be inducted after the minefield was breached and were to occupy the gap including Gazipur Reserve Forest between 16 MADRAS and 3 GRENADIERS. They were to expand the bridgehead after first light.
    • The Engineers were to breach two vehicle-safe lanes through the minefields, one by trawls and the other by hand breaching.

The first attack was launched at 1930 hours on December 15 by 16 MADRAS. The attack was two companies up. The initial objectives were Saraj Chak and Lalial Reserve Forest. The companies had to assault through the 1400 metre wide minefield without prior breaching. The enemy had well prepared defences with bunkers, weapon emplacements and communication trenches. There was heavy artillery shelling. But the objectives were captured after fierce hand to hand combat. The gallantry of Havildar Thomas Phillipose and Maj PV Mahadevan in the battle bears mention. Havildar Phillipose was leading a platoon in the attack as the platoon commander had been wounded. He too was soon wounded but continued to lead the assault and captured four enemy bunkers. He refused to be evacuated and remained with his platoon even after the objective was captured. For his gallantry, Havildar Phillipose was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra. Major Mahadevan who led the assault was awarded the Vir Chakra. Lalial Reserve Forest was captured by 2130 hours and Saraj Chak was captured by 2200 hours December 15. The enemy immediately launched local counter attacks on both the localities. These were beaten back. The Battalion now inducted the reserve companies and expanded the bridgehead by capturing 6r and 5r. The intensity of the battle can be gauged from the fact that in this action 16 MADRAS lost 27 killed and 82 wounded. But by 2330 hours December 15, the battalion had achieved its objective. In this battle 16 MADRAS won one Maha Vir Chakra, two Vir Chakras and two Sena Medals. The battery commander and one of the forward artillery observers were also awarded Vir Chakras.

3 GRENADIERS commenced its attack on Jarpal by 2130 hours. It also assaulted across the minefield without prior breaching and succeeded in capturing its objective after fierce fighting.

The Engineers played their role creditably. They commenced breaching the minefields at 2130 hours. 405 Field Company was given the task of breaching the lane with trawls. There was intense enemy shelling. Despite all difficulties the breaching of the 1400-m deep minefield was completed by 0130 hours. 404 Field Company was given the task of breaching the other lane. To reduce time of reconnaissance, the company commander sent out a patrol to find the forward edge of the minefield. Capt RN Gupta, Naib Subedar Dasarathan and two lance naiks volunteered for the task and brought back valuable information under extremely difficult conditions. However, the hand breaching was abandoned and 404 Field Company was sent to mark the vehicle safe lane breached by 405 Field Company.

The vehicle-safe lane through the 1400-m deep minefield had hardly been marked up to halfway when enemy tanks in area Gazipur started up and started moving towards 16 MADRAS. The situation thus became critical at the bridgehead. At about 0230 hours December 16, the Commanding Officer 17 Horse ordered C Squadron under Major Ajai Singh to move into the bridgehead through the half marked vehicle-safe lane. When halfway through the minefield, the officer of the Engineer task stopped the squadron force breaching the minefield. However, in view of the gravity of the situation, the tanks were allowed to pass and guided through the minefield. Fortunately, there were no casualties to the tanks due to the mines. Some infantrymen who had panicked and were trying to return to the rear through the minefield were picked up on the tanks and taken back to the bridgehead. As the leading tanks emerged onto the enemy side of the minefield, they came under enemy tank fire from the direction of Saraj Chak. The tanks opened fire and destroyed an enemy tank that had been dug in. Thereafter, the squadron formed up and moved in assault formation towards Gazipur Reserve Forest where enemy tanks had been reported. This unnerved the enemy, who withdrew. Thus the bridgehead was saved.

Despite enemy shelling, the Engineers continued their work and breached the minefield in time for 6 MADRAS, 17 Horse and a company of 18 RAJPUTANA RIFLES to be inducted before first light. Major VR Choudhury showed exemplary gallantry and leadership during the mine breaching operations. He had led his field company in breaching three major mine fields under enemy fire. He was killed in the enemy shelling and awarded the Maha Vir Chakra posthumously. Lt Col BT Pandit, Commanding Officer 9 Engineer Regiment, Capt RN Gupta (posthumous), N/Sub Doraiswamy were awarded Vir Chakras. 9 Engineer Regiment lost 9 killed and 16 wounded during mine breaching operations. They bagged one Maha Vir Chakra, three Vir Chakras and four Sena Medals.

The morning mist, common in Punjab at this time of the year delayed the deployment of 6 MADRAS. Battle of Basantar 1971 173 Dawn brought to light a number of enemy machine gun bunkers. Some enemy infantry had also infiltrated into the bridgehead. Enemy artillery and these points of resistance caused many casualties. The first major enemy counter attack developed at 0800 hours on December 16. First 31 Cavalry of Pakistan’s 8 Independent Armoured Brigade attacked in echelons after laying a smoke screen in front of Gazipur. As soon as the smoke lifted, the enemy tanks opened up. 17 Horse lost a few tanks in the initial fire. However, the regiment soon got better of the enemy due to superior gunnery. With 31 Cavalry pinned down, Pakistani 13 Lancers joined the attack from the direction of Pind Chaniani in the gap between Jarpal and Gazipur. Fortunately, two troops of the reserve squadron had just reached the area .of the gap. 13 Lancers were engaged by these two troops. In the heroic action that followed, the two troops destroyed a major portion of the enemy tanks and blunted the attack. By 1600 hours on December 16, the enemy had lost 48 tanks, 30 in Jarpal sector and 18 opposite Gazipur Reserve Forest. Thus with the help of good artillery support, the three infantry battalions and 17 Horse held their ground. The enemy’s fury and desperation can be judged by the fact that by 1600 hours December 16, the enemy had lost 48 tanks destroyed on the battlefield.

During the night December 16/17, a squadron of 4 Horse along with its Regimental Headquarters was inducted into the bridgehead to reinforce the -3 GRENADIERS area at Jarpal. Just as they took up position in the early hours of December 17, the 3 GRENADIERS’ position was attacked by 15 Frontier Force supported by a regiment of armour. The attack was beaten back by the Battalion supported by 4 Horse. The enemy lost 30 tanks and left 80 dead on the battlefield. At about 1000 hours, another battalion, 39 Frontier Force launched” a desperate attack on the Jarpal defences. This proved to be suicidal for them. As they walked into the machine-gun fire of the battalion and tank troops, they were massacred. 200 bodies including those of the Commanding Officer and adjutant of the battalion were handed over to the Pakistanis the next day. The Commanding Officer, 3 GRENADIERS also handed over a citation based on which the Commanding Officer, 39 Frontier Force was awarded Pakistan’s highest gallantry award. After the failure of this attack, Pakistan did not launch any more attacks and the rest of the day passed peacefully. As dusk neared, the enemy started heavy shelling of the Indian positions. Cease-fire was declared between India and Pakistan at 2000 hours December 17. However, shelling continued throughout the night. The Indian forces were still 7 krns short of Zaffarwal, their objective. It had taken the. Indian Army 11 days to advance 13 krns and breach the Basantar defences which was the Pakistan’s limit of penetration in the area.

The battle witnessed many outstanding acts of valour. Two troops of B Squadron, 17 Horse were in support of 3 GRENADIERS in the bridgehead. When the battalion was under severe threat from enemy armour, the two troops under Lt Arun Khetrapal and Lt Alhawat were ordered forward from Jarpal. While the two troops were advancing under the command of Capt V Malhotra, Squadron Second in Command, they carne under attack from recoilless guns concealed in bunkers and groves in the flank. To silence the guns Capt Malhotra and Lt Khetrapal made a headlong charge and overran the guns and captured their crew at pistol point. Then putting them on the tanks, they moved forward again. In this action, the only casualty was Risaldar Sagat Singh. He received a burst of machine-gun fire on his face and chest. Even while collapsing, he asked his tank crew to continue to support Lt Khetrapal. Soon after an enemy squadron was seen approaching and a shoot-up ensued. The three tanks under Capt Malhotra destroyed ten Pakistani tanks in quick succession and thus broke up the enemy attack. Of these four were destroyed by Lt Khetrapal’s tank. During the action Lt Alhawat’s tank was hit. He was wounded and had to be evacuated. Capt Malhotra’s tank gun also jammed. He asked his commanding officer permission to withdraw to repair his gun. But fearing that the rearward move of the tank may trigger panic, the Commanding Officer ordered that there would be no rearward movement and all tanks would fight from wherever they were. The defect in Capt Malhotra’s tank left only Lt Khetrapal to take on the enemy. His tank was hit soon afterwards and burst into flames and he was severely wounded. Capt Malhotra ordered him to abandon the tank. But Khetrapal saw that the enemy was still attacking and there was no other tank to resist them. So he decided to fight on and told Capt Malhotra that his tank gun was still working and that he was going to continue to fight. He continued to engage the enemy tanks and destroyed another, which happened to be that of the enemy squadron commander and which was only 75-m away. The enemy tank also scored a direct hit on his tank killing Lt Khetrapal. It was the fourth and fatal hit on Khetrapal’s tank. Khetrapal’s citation later read “His calculated and deliberate decision to fight from his . burning tank was an act of valour and self-sacrifice beyond the call of duty”. Lt Arun Khetrapal was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra. Hearing on the radio that Capt Malhotra’s tank was out of action, Naib Risaldar Dayanand rushed to his aid in his tank. This led him to the same exposed area where Lt Khetrapal’s tank was destroyed. During the course of battle, Dayanand’s tank received four direct hits, two of which were clear penetrations. Twice the tank caught fire. Miraculous as it may appear, the crew escaped with minor burn injuries.

In the nearby 3 GRENADIERS position there was another heroic stand. Major Hoshiar Singh was the commander of the left forward company of the battalion. He had led the company on the night of December 15/16 on the assault on Jarpal. On December 16, when faced with an enemy counter attack, he went from trench to trench to cheer his men, disregarding the bullets that flew around him. His company repelled three counter attacks on December 16. The night of December 16/17 was relatively quiet. But Pakistan had inducted a fresh brigade, the 124 Infantry Brigade from Rahimiyar Khan, south of Multan, and launched it on a series of fierce counter attacks on December 17. The first assault on the morning of December 17 was by 15 Frontier Force supported by a regiment of armour. A shell splinter in the bombardment that preceded assault seriously wounded Major Hoshiar Singh Despite his wound and in utter disregard for his own safety, he again moved about in the open from trench to trench to encourage his men. When a shell landed near one of his machine gun posts, wounding the crew, he manned the gun himself and killed a number of the enemy. After the battle, 85 enemy dead including the commanding officer and three other officers of the assaulting battalion were counted on the company’s front. Even after the attack was repulsed Major Hoshiar Singh refused to be evacuated till ceasefire was declared. His superb leadership and dauntless courage won him the Param Vir Chakra.

The Battle of Basantar was a saga of courage and determination. The success of the battle depended on the ability of the troops in the bridgehead to beat off the expected enemy counter attacks. That the bridgehead remained intact was largely due to the memorable actions fought by 17 Horse, 16 MADRAS and 3 GRENADIERS. 17 Horse destroyed a major portion of Pakistan’s 8 Independent Annoured Brigade in the battle. 9 Engineer Regiment breached the minefield in time and made the induction of armour into the bridgehead possible. The Regiment of Artillery also played its role. It was a remarkable victory.


The Battle of Basantar involved establishing a bridgehead across a 1400-m wide minefield laid on the bed of the Basantar Nadi and holding it against repeated and determined counter attacks. Both tasks were achieved fully against all odds. How was it possible?

The first factor was good generalship. The decision to assault across the Basantar Nadi rather than the I Supowal Ditch was an excellent command decision. The enemy opposition at the time of assault across the obstacle, though considerable, was less and improved the chances of success.

The second factor was the gallantly, and leadership of the commanders. Major Hoshiar Singh and Lt Arun Khetrapal were awarded the Param Vir Chakra. But there were many other outstanding instances of gallantry and leadership. Havildar Phillipose of 16 MADRAS and Major VR Choudhury, Engineers were awarded the Maha Vir Chakras. The outstanding leadership of the officers and junior leaders inspired their men to perform most heroic deeds. The decision of the Commanding Officer 17 Horse, Lt Col Hanut Singh, to push his squadrons through the incompletely marked vehicle-safe lanes into the bridgehead was largely responsible for the successful defence of the bridgehead. His instruction to his tank commanders that there would be no rearward movement helped to maintain the morale of the supported infantry and played a major role in the success of the battle.

The third factor was risk-taking ability. The willingness of commanders to accept the concepts of assault lanes, selective breaching and minimum marking and inducting armour through these lanes across minefields completely surprised the enemy. As a result Indian arm our was always across the minefields before the enemy could launch its armoured counter attacks. Thus the counter attacks could be beaten back with heavy losses to the enemy.

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The fourth factor was the artillery support. The artillery support was adequate and the medium regiments played a very important role in softening-up the objectives and beating back the enemy counter attacks.

The fifth factor was the ability of the engineers to breach the 1400-m deep minefield in the soft river bed in time to enable the induction of the battalion support weapons, 17 Horse and 6 MADRAS into the bridgehead before first light. The trawls had been newly acquired and the doctrine for their deployment had not yet been finalised. We have seen the mess that was created in the 39 Infantry Division advance when two tanks and trawls were abandoned. It goes to the credit of General Officer Commanding 54 Infantry Division and 9 Engineer Regiment Commander that the trawls were grouped with the Engineers and effective drills had been developed to breach deep minefields in a tactically acceptable time frame. This was possible even with the limited availability of trawls, only three being available.

The sixth contributing factor was the morale of the troops and the co-operation between the different arms fighting the battle. The armour did their best to ensure that the infantry were never exposed to attacks by enemy armour. The infantry held out against fierce and repeated counter attacks. The artillery and engineers also played their role.

Last but not the least was the state of training. 17 Horse again proved their superiority in manoeuvre and tank gunnery and destroyed 48 enemy tanks. The units that fought the Battle of Basantar displayed excellent battle drills that can only come from effective training. Engineers displayed their skills in new and improvised drill in breaching four deep minefields during the entire operations. The infantry also displayed excellent battle drills, which is only possible through realistic training.

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3 thoughts on “Battle of Basantar 1971 War

  1. # Bengali Quazi Sazzad Ali Zahir (born at Comilla, 1951) joined as cadet officer in the Pakistan Army in 1969 & commissioned in the Artillery Corps in August 1971. He was posted in 6th Field Artillery Regiment, a part of 14 Para Brigade at Sialkot. He and many of his Bengali colleagues in West-Pakistan had already learned (West-)Pakistan Army Genocide in their native Bangladesh (‘East-Pakistan’).
    # Lt. Sazzad Ali Zahir at the end of August, 1971 crossed to India to join Bangladesh Liberation War. He handed over ‘Top-secret’ maps of Pakistani Troop Deployments, Ammunition/ petrol Depot, Minefields, Geography, War preparation plans at Shakargarh-Sialkot area to the Indian Army.
    # Lt. Sajjad Ali raised & commanded Bangladesh Mukti Bahini’s 2nd Field Artillery Battery (‘Mujib Battery’) in Sylhet sector & fought a number of battles
    against Genocidal Pakistan Army there. Bangladesh government awarded Sajjad the ‘Bir Protik’ gallantary award (1973) for his bravery in the Liberation war. He also received ‘Swadhinata Padak’ in 2013 — the highest civilian award in Bangladesh. Indian President Shri Ram Nath Kovind conferred Lt. Colonel (retd) Sajjad Ali with the ‘Padma Shri’ award in 2021 — the 4th highest civilian award in India.
    # Lt. Sajjad’s information led to the total Defeat, Annihilation and Humiliation of Pakistan forces at Shakargarh sector in December 1971.

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