Reminiscences of the 1971 War
by G B Reddy on 17 Dec 2017 1 Comment

“History at close quarters and that its actual process is very different from what is presented to posterity,” Sir B.H. Liddell Hart wrote in his reflections, “Thoughts on War,” after World War 1. How or true is this about the official version of India’s Pakistan War of 1971, and the recorded distortions in the public domain? Many in India claim the status of ‘historian emeritus’ and find fault with past Indian historians for failure to record “India’s Dark Age”; but the majority of them have failed to carry out in-depth research regarding the events of the 1971 War. 


Year after year, media blares that the war began with preemptive aerial strikes on 3 December 1971 on 11 Indian air stations in the Western Sector. It became casus belli for launching an Indian offensive in East Pakistan in support of Bangladeshi nationalist forces. Media claims that the liberation war in East Pakistan was a 14-day offensive, from 3 December 1971 to the fall of Dacca (Dhaka) on 16 December 1971.


Historians making field visits can confirm the sacrifices made by officers and soldiers even before 3 December 1971 from civilians residing along the international border. It was their gallantry well before 3 December 1971 that forced Pakistan to launch pre-emptive airstrikes, yet these are barely mentioned.


The timeline of the operations are available from other sources. Time magazine reported “an embarrassing victory at Boyra” in November 1971. By not declassifying the operational reports, successive regimes have rendered disservice to the departed souls and their families. Thirty years is adequate for release of “Top Secret” documents; unlike many western democracies, India has little to hide.


As Brigade Major, 350 Infantry Brigade (9 Infantry Division), the writer would like to highlight the timeline of key battles. The initial operational plan included securing a lodgment area inside East Pakistan to include (6-7 November 1971): 1 Jakrif battalion to capture Maslia Pakistan BOP; 4 Sikh battalion to secure area Makapur (4 kms inside East Pakistan); and 26 Madras battalion to relieve 1 Jakrif in Boyra Enclave to act as firm base and secure area South up to Dosatina for further offensive operations towards Jhingergacha the Road Axis leading to Jessore.


On the night of 11/12 November 1971, 1 Jakrif crossed the border to capture Pakistan’s Masli BOP – East of Boyra salient in Jessore Sector. At the last moment, orders were received to ‘invest’ the BOP (base of preference) instead of capture, to prevent Pakistan from capturing Indian Army prisoners (political directive) and using them to launch propaganda against Indian involvement. 45 Cav less one Squadron was deployed in support of 1 Jakrif.


Meanwhile, on the night of 15 November 1971, one company 4 Sikh was deployed North of Boyra salient to provide flank security to 1 Jakrif and to invest Barni BOP in the North. By 17 November 1971, remaining battalion of 4 Sikh was also deployed in area Makapur to exploit and expand the lodgment area. By 19 November 1971, squadron 63 Cav was deployed in the area held by 4 Sikh for subsequent offensive operations.


Also, one company each of 26 Madras deployed in area Garibpur and Muhammadpur to provide flank security from the Southern flank and one company to exploit and expand lodgment area up to Dosatina.


Pakistan army launched probing patrols against the lodgments secured opposite the BOPs. According to the debriefing of Brigadier Hayat Khan in the POW Camp in Ranchi: “As there were no crossing places on River Kabadak opposite Chaugacha, I did not visualize a major threat. However, I did not rule out the possibility of infantry forces operating in that sector. Therefore, I reinforced the BOPs with regulars. During the course of operations, I decided to counter attack lodgment areas astride the river with one battalion which failed to evict your forces.”


Meanwhile, orders to enlarge the bridgehead across River Kabadak were received with a view to build up armour and artillery deployment to support attacks on Jessore Fortress occupied by107 Pakistan Brigade.


On the night of 18/19 November 1971, 102 Engineer Regiment constructed the “Krupman Bridge” over River Kabadak. Pakistan destroyed one pontoon of the bridge at 10.50 a.m. on 19 November with 4 x F86 Sabre fighters.


Flying Officer Imarti, as the Forward Air Controller, called for counter air support, but the Gnats based at Kalaikonda appeared overhead after the F-86s were on their return. Since the IAF was forbidden to cross the border, they did not pursue and engage enemy fighters over the air space inside East Pakistan. Subsequently, one flight of Gnats was deployed in the forward air base at Dum Dum to reduce the response time to bare minimum.


On receipt of intelligence of withdrawal of Pak troops from Barni post area, 4 Sikh advanced and secured all areas West of Chaugacha on main road leading to Jessore from North West held by Pakistan’s 38 Frontier Force Rifles. However, the battalion was directed to halt further offensive and not to cross the River Kabadak.


Meanwhile, 14 Punjab battalion (Ex 42 Infantry Brigade) was deployed in area Garibpur by 3 a.m. on 21 November with C Squadron 45 Cav (PT 76s) wading through the River Kabadak in support of 14 Punjab firm base.


On the morning of 21 November 1971, the famous tank battle of Garibpur - Grave Yard of Tanks - was fought. Pakistan's 107 Infantry Brigade launched a counter attack with 3rd Independent Armoured Squadron after dawn. Pakistani armour rushed headlong into armour lying in wait. Major D.S. Narang, Squadron Commander, led the engagement personally standing with his half body outside the cupola. He was hit by enemy MMG fire and died.  


After a fierce engagement, 11 enemy tanks were destroyed and three abandoned in condition. The destroyed Pakistani tanks were recovered and moved inside Boyra Bulge. Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram addressed the troops, congratulating them for their valour.


A second Pakistani air strike was launched at 14.50 p.m. on 22 November 1971 with four Pakistan fighters engaging forces deployed in lodgment areas across the border. The flight of Gnats at Dum Dum appeared on the tail of hostile aircraft as they were strafing and destroyed them. Flight Lieutenant Parvez Qureshi Mehdi, who bailed out (served as the PAF Chief of Air Staff from 1997 to 2000, during the 1999 Kargil War) was captured by 4 Sikh.


On 22 November 1971, on receipt of information of withdrawal of Pakistan troops from BOPs, troops advanced and secured all areas including Chaugacha on the road to Jessore by early morning 23 November 1971. Finally, 350 Infantry Brigade was redeployed West and South of Jessore and 42 Infantry Brigade deployed North West astride road Chaugacha-Jessore for executing further offensive operations against Jessore Fortress on the outbreak of war.


Thus, the true facts of the battles of the 1971 Liberation War, particularly the Battle of Boyra, on the Eastern Front have been obfuscated in the official history due to excessive obsession with “secrecy”.




Pakistani troops withdrew towards Khulna and put up a last ditch stand based on built-up areas. Following the unsuccessful attempt by 32 Infantry Brigade to break through Pakistani defenses in built-up area Khulna, 350 Infantry Brigade was redeployed by 12 December 1971. The first attempt by 26 Madras failed, which was followed by successful attacks by 1 Jakrif and 4 Sikh that achieved significant breakthrough after fierce fighting on the night of 15/16 December 1971. The Pakistani brigade formally surrendered on 17 December 1971, not on 16 December 1971.


The foregoing narrative clearly exposes two key myths surrounding 1971 war. For the formations and troops of II Corps, 9 Infantry Division and 350 Infantry Brigade, it was a 36-day war and not a 14-day war.


Another myth is that the armed forces were given a free hand to conduct operations in the Eastern Front from day one, when political directions dictated plans and the course of battle from time to time. The original plan of a Rapid Thrust (Deep Penetration Thrust) from Boyra Bulge bypassing Jessore to secure Golondo Ghats was changed to suit political needs.


Despite last minute political directions, units and troops responded with remarkable abilities to adjust, adapt and execute a crushing blow on the opposing forces. Their valour and sacrifices that gained crowning victories prior to 3 December 1971 also duly recognized and awarded.


But the recorded history remains distorted even after 46 years. The conduct of operations in erstwhile East Pakistan on all fronts needs to be recorded accurately for posterity. 

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