It may be recalled that the Awami League party
headed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had secured an
absolute majority with 167 seats in the 1970 elections.
Pakistan’s army Chief Gen Yahya Khan, and Zulfikar
Ali Bhutto, whose Pakistan People’s Party secured
the maximum seats (85 seats) in West Pakistan,
did not find it palatable and refused to honour
the election results. That led to civil strife,
a non-cooperation movement in East Pakistan, Martial
Law in the country on Feb 21, and then a brutal
crackdown on the people of East Pakistan.
Thousands of troops were airlifted from West
Pakistan to the eastern part and Lt Gen Tikka
Khan, popularly known as the Butcher of Baluchistan,
was appointed the new Governor and Martial Law
administrator of East Pakistan.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared independence and
the formation of Bangladesh. Lt Gen Tikka Khan
launched a genocide, calling it Operation Blitz.
Ten million refugees fled to India, and the army’s
violence led to the creation of Mukti Bahini,
a liberation force.
Pakistan became more belligerent and threatened
war with India, which got no international support
in caring for the huge number of refugees. India
had to intervene but Pakistanwas confident of
American and Chinese support. War clouds were
By May 1971, the situation in East Pakistan was
under control except for sporadic protests. With
more and more troops moving in from West Pakistan
and the absence of a military response from India,
Pakistani troops became reckless and careless.
They undertook hot pursuit of Mukti Bahini.
troops across the border into India and clashed
with Indian paramilitary personnel on the border.
Due to frequent clashes these posts had to be
reinforced by the Indian Army. Military intervention
against the Pakistanis became imperative.
Gen SHFJ (Sam) Manekshaw, India’s Chief of the
Army Staff, assessed the situation and came to
the conclusion that it was prudent to wait till
the end of November or early December 1971. There
were reasons: Pakistan had freshly inducted four
additional divisions into East Pakistan; to launch
an offensive, India would also need adequate number
of troops in its Eastern Command; the riverine
terrain of East Pakistan needed special equipment
and troops needed to be trained and rehearsed;
any operations had to be post-monsoons as mobility
would be a problem during this period; and the
frozen border terrain would prevent the Chinese
to interfere by way of incursions into India.
Air War in
In the east, the overwhelmingly superior
IAF was able to attain total air supremacy
within 48 hours of the commencement of war
with daringly innovative daylight bombing
attacks by newly-acquired MiG-21 supersonic
fighters, pulverising PAF’s bases at Kurmitola
and Tezgaon; and in the process, effectively
grounding the PAF for the entire duration
This also resulted in shoring up the mobility
of Army IV Corps which was greatly enhanced
by the intelligent and effective use of
helicopters in the riverine terrain.
The first ever heliborne Army air bridge
operation and the first battalion strength
paradrop were conducted in furtherance of
the ground operations. The main paradrop
operation was undertaken on 11 Dec 1971,
by 48 aircraft. Six An-12s and 20 Packet
aircraft operating from Dum Dum and 22 Dakota
aircraft from Kalaikunda landed most of
the Para Battalion Group, north of Tangail
between 1600 and 1630 h that day.
The paradrop facilitated inclusion of Dhaka
as a viable objective for the Eastern Army.
on the Government House
Somehow, BBC reported that as many as 5,000
paratroopers of the Indian Army had been
dropped over Tangail, while the actual figure
This had demoralised the politicomilitary
leadership in Dacca.
However, the last straw that broke the
camel’s back, as it were, was the pinpoint
rocket attack on the Government House in
the East Pakistani capital by MiG-21s of
No. 28 Squadron on Dec 14.
That led to the resignation of the Governor,
Dr Abdul Motaleb Malik, the surrender of
the entire 93,000- strong East Pakistani
garrison, and the creation of Bangladesh.
Also, as the US was a military ally of Pakistan,
diplomatic support of the Soviet Union was required
to ensure that military operations were unhindered
by political and international considerations.
Overall the plan was offensive in the East and
defensive in the West, and appropriately authorised
by Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi.
She also visited the United States and the European
countries to seek their support in easing the
problem but found they were not prepared to comprehend
it or help. On 9 August 1971, a treaty of Peace,
Friendship and Cooperation was signed with the
Soviet Union to safeguard India’s interests during
US in fact sent its 7th Fleet led by aircraft
carrier Enterprise, its first nuclear powered
ship, to the Bay of Bengal to deter India but
Mrs Gandhi managed the situation resolutely.
Declassified documents indicate that the Soviet
Union sent a large number of formations on the
Chinese border to ensure that no misadventure
or posturing was undertaken by the Chinese during
this period on its India borders.
It is creditable to note that there was complete
coordination between the ministers, bureaucracy,
intelligence (RAW) and the Generals. Mrs Gandhi,
Foreign Minister Sardar Swaran Singh and Defence
Minister Babu Jagjivan Ram strained every sinew
to ensure that preparations for war were undertaken
with military precision.
RAW helped Mukti Bahini and there were border
clashes, in which the Indian Army sometimes used
artillery. Mukti Bahini established a base close
to the Indian village of Boyra. On the night of
Nov 21-22, Pakistani troops supported by tanks,
artillery and air force attacked it.
A successful counter attack was launched by the
Indian forces supported by artillery and Gnat
fighter aircraft, destroying 13 Pakistani Chaffee
tanks and three F 86 Sabre jets. At this juncture,
the Government of India gave permission to Indian
troops to cross the border in selfdefence. Similar
attacks took place in Hilli where Pakistan launched
two attacks and suffered heavy casualties. Indian
forces also suffered heavy casualties but captured
7 km into Pakistan territory.
Meanwhile plans were being made for war. East
Pakistan was to be attacked by land from three
directions and a blockade by sea in the fourth
direction. Indian troops and armour moved towards
the borders in steady streams and the civil administration
ensured supplies of whatever was asked for.
Pakistan’s combat strength in East Pakistan by
end November 1971 was four divisions. In addition
there were 25,000 irregulars, one regiment plus
a squadron of Chaffee tanks, an ad hoc squadron
of Chaffee and PT 76 tanks. Its air force had
25 Sabre jets and a few helicopters. Pakistan
navy had sufficient gunboats operating in inland
and coastal waters.
The Indian Army could utilise seven infantry
divisions diverted from Indo-China border.
India’s mechanised forces comprised three armoured
regiments, two independent squadrons and a mechanised
battalion. The ratio was approximately 1.75: 1,
but the Indian Air force and Navy were far superior.
The Indian forces were grouped under thre Corps
Headquarters; 4 CORPS, 33 CORPS and a newly raised
On the western front, Pakistan deployed nine
infantry divisions, an Army Reserve North and
an Army Reserve South, which comprised Armoured
Divisions. Out of these, six divisions were to
hold ground and would therefore have three infantry
divisions and two armoured divisions for launching
a Corps sized offensive.
By and large, Indian and Pakistani forces were
balanced though Pakistan had marginally superior
armour and artillery elements.
Concept of Operations
and Design of Battle
Gen A A K Niazi, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief
(GOCin- C) in East Pakistan, adopted the fortress
form of defence. He occupied important communication
centres, filled gaps with patrols, and held all
important bridges and communication centres in
strength. Accordingly theatre fortresses were
created at towns of Jessore, Jhendia, Bogra, Rangpur,
Jamalpur, Mymensingh, Sylhet, Bhairab Bazar, Comilla
With regard to Dacca, no defence of the river
obstacle or any deliberate defences were planned
and no troops were earmarked for Dacca, apparently
as no one imagined the fall of Dacca or collapse
of East Pakistan.
Broadly the north west sector was allotted to
16 INFANTRY DIVISION with Headquarters at Bogra,
9 INFANTRY DIVISION for the defence of South Western
sector with Headquarters at Jessore, 14, 39 INFANTRY
DIVISION in the Eastern sector with Headquarters
at Ashuganj and Chandpur respectively. Apart from
this, he had a brigade at Mymensingh-Jamalpur.
Eastern Command set the Pakistani communication
centres as the objective, and as the operations
progressed with lightning speed, and windows of
opportunity gradually opened, Dacca became the
terminal objective. The South Western sector was
allotted to 2 CORPS which comprised 4 INFANTRY
DIVISION, 9 INFANTRY DIVISION, 50 PARA BRIGADE
less a battalion, and an Armoured Regiment of
PT-76 tanks with a squadron of T-55 tanks.
They were to head towards Madhumati river, capture
Jessore, Jhendia, thereafter secure Hardinge bridge,
Goalundo Ghat, Faridpur ferries and Khulna.
The North Western sector was allotted to 33 CORPS
which comprised 20 MOUNTAIN DIVISION and 71 MOUNTAIN
BRIGADE. Their operations entailed cutting the
Hilli- Gaibanda line and to capture Bogra and
Rangpur. The Central Sector was allotted to 101
COMMUNICATION ZONE comprising 95 MOUNTAIN BRIGADE
and F1 sector. They were to capture Jamalpur,
Mymensingh and subsequently Tangail. A para drop
by a battalion group was to take place at Tangail
The Eastern sector was allotted to 4 CORPS which
comprised 8 MOUNTAIN DIVISION, 23 MOUNTAIN DIVISION
and 57 MOUNTAIN DIVISION. Their operations envisaged
advance to the Meghna river, capture Maulvi Bazar,
Sylhet, Mynamati, Lalmai Hills (South) – Laksham
In the Western sector, Pakistan planned to capture
Poonch, launch a major Corps offensive in the
Chhamb sector with 30,000 troops and offensive
operations in the desert sector of Rajasthan.
India had 15 CORPS and 11 CORPS under the Western
Command to operate in Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab.
Southern Command had 11 and 12 INFANTRY DIVISIONS
to conduct the war in the Desert sector.
Pre-emptive Air Strike
On the evening of 3rd December 1971, at 5.45
p.m., Pakistan launched a pre-emptive air strike
at Indian airfields of Srinagar, Avantipur, Pathankot,
Uttarlai, Jodhpur, Ambala and Agra. India was
fully geared to respond and war was formally declared.
Later, the same night, a second Pakistani wave
was sent. However, not a single aircraft was destroyed
on ground. The Indian Air Force went into action
the same night and continued operations at an
unprecedented pace of 500 sorties per day, a rate
higher than in the Second World War.
The 4-aircraft MiG-21 formation was
led by the Commanding Officer, Wing Commander
(later Air Vice Marshal) B.K. Bishnoi.
Initially, the attack was to be carried
out against another government building
in Dacca, namely, the Circuit House, or
at least that was what the pilots were told.
But, as the formation aircraft were preparing
to taxi out from their respective pens,
‘Tiger-1’ (the lead aircraft) was handed
over a piece of paper indicating the change
of target: the Government House, or the
Luckily, Bishnoi had carried into his cockpit
a crumpled tourist map of Dacca city and
he was able to locate the target on the
map, scanning it during the flight. However,
he kept the information to himself till
late into the sortie, revealing it to the
rest of his formation only after reaching
the outskirts of Dacca.
Sweeping over the city, he was able to
locate the target. He went in for a low
rocket pass followed by his team mates at
a preplanned TOT (Time on Target) of 1230
The formation carried out two attacks,
firing their rockets in two salvos against
the building. The attacks were so accurate
that the lead’s salvos went through the
ventilators of the ‘Conference Room’ where
a meeting was scheduled to be held by the
Governor at 1300 hrs (Dacca local time).
Fortunately, the room was still empty when
the rockets pierced through its walls, but
it so rattled the Governor, Dr Abdul Motaleb
Malik, that he immediately snatched a paper
from his aide and wrote down his resignation.
The same was given to a UN official, identified
as Kelly, who was in Dacca and probably
accompanying Malik for the meeting, with
a request to have it transmitted to the
US embassy in Rawalpindi, and for relaying
it to government in West Pakistan.
Dacca had lost all communications of its
own to the outside world.
It is justifiably recorded that it was
the IAF action of shooting down three Sabres
in the Boyra bulge by a Dum-Dum based Gnat
formation on November 22, 1971 which initiated
the 1971 Indo-Pak war and it was the IAF’s
December 14 MiG-21 attack against the Government
House in Dacca that ended the war in victory
Perhaps the most befitting tribute to
the IAF came from Lt Gen Amir Abdullah Khan
Niazi, Martial Law Administrator and Commander,
Eastern Command (Pakistan).
When asked after the surrender ceremony
as to why he had surrendered his command
when his Army was still intact, he turned,
and walking up to an IAF officer, pointed
at the flying wing on his uniform and said:
“Because of this, you – the Indian Air Force.”
In the eastern sector, Indian Air Force Hunters,
SU-7 and Mig-21s dive bombed the two PAF airfields,
disabling them for flights, and decimated its
aircraft. IAF executed more than 4000 sorties
to attain the vital air superiority over East
Pakistan, and to support the Indian Army’s ground
operations. From 7 Dec, jet fighters from Indian
Navy’s aircraft carrier INS Vikrant also attacked
coastal targets of Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar and
Barisal, sinking or destroying most of the Pakistan
The air superiority was so well established that
Lt Gen Sagat Singh of 4 CORPS moved freely in
his area of responsibility, in his helicopter
to ensure the rapid advance of his troops.
Ops Conduct - Eastern
2 CORPS advanced on two divisional thrust lines
for Jessore and Jhendia. By 5 Dec, it cut the
Jessore-Kushtia railway line, captured Jessore
by 7 Dec and destroyed Hardinge bridge by 12 Dec.
33 CORPS sent columns to contain from the north
while the main thrust went in at Hilli to cut
the railway line south of Rangpur and then to
wheel south for Bogra. Pakistan had strongly-constructed
defences. At several places, railway coaches were
dug into the ground to serve as pillboxes. The
resistance was stiff and Hilli was invested on
6 Dec and captured after heavy fighting. The Bogra
defences were contacted on 13 Dec and the city
was captured on 14 Dec. By 15 Dec, it was cleared
and 340 (Independent) Brigade was earmarked for
As 20 Mountain Division advanced to Rangpur,
all Pakistani resistance crumbled by 16 Dec 1971.
4 CORPS had the largest amount of forces and
its operations on the eastern front were pivotal
to the success of their overall plan. By all means
the troops proved their mettle. Their objective
was to reach the Meghna river and pose a threat
8 MOUNTAIN DIVISION was directed to capture Maulvi
Bazar, thereafter Sherpur ferries and if possible
Sylhet. 57 MOUNTAIN DIVISION was tasked to capture
Akhaura, Daudkhandi and also Chittagong. 23 MOUNTAIN
DIVISION was responsible for operations in Chandpur
sector and clearance of the enemy in Lalmai hills.
The progress made on all avenues was as per
While operations were being conducted for Akhaura,
a signal intercept was received that a Pakistani
brigade was withdrawing from Bhairab Bazar in
a northern direction towards Sylhet and not southwards
Another piece of information indicated that the
enemy was attempting to withdraw to Ashuganj through
Sylhet. It was decided to heli-land a battalion
group at Sylhet to prevent this action. 4/5 GORKHA
RIFLES (FF) was selected for this task and took
part in India’s first heliborne operation.
The battalion was launched on 7 Dec with the
task of capturing the airfield and the bridge
over the Surma. Nine Mi-4 helicopters landed the
first wave. Pakistani army reaction delayed further
buildup till its counter attacks were repulsed.
Ultimately the remaining part of the battalion,
a company of 9 GUARDS, two mountain guns and an
Air Control Team with tentacle were heli landed.
The battalion held on to the ground and linked
up after 9 days, after Indian Air Force pounded
Sylhet. The focus was now on Ashuganj as it led
to the eastern edge of the giant bridge on the
error or a plant?
By Gulshan Luthra
Without doubt, the erroneous BBC report
on Indian Army’s paradrop of 5000 troops
– actually 540 – over Tangail played a very,
very significant role in the fall of Dacca.
All India Radio reports were censored
and generally broadcast two days after any
event due to the censorship and approval
process. Radio Pakistan had no credibility
as it invariably broadcast lies and was
aptly called Radio Jhootistan (liar-istan).
BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) reports
were trusted, relied and were generally
But how its correspondent/s reported that
IAF had airdropped 5000 troops, nearly ten
times more than the actual figure of 540,
is a mystery.
Either the correspondent made a genuine
mistake – thankfully – or it was planted
on him by India’s external intelligence
agency, RAW, which played a great role in
RAW’ s Director R N Kao monitored and directed
behind-the- scene developments day and night
while one of his able deputies, Shankaran
Nair, was at the eastern front, donning
uniforms when needed, and helping Bangladeshis
organize the Mukti Bahiti liberation force.
I met both the officials some 30 years
back, particularly Mr Nair who was seconded
to the Minorities Commission as its Secretary
in the post-Emergency phase. Neither of
them was willing to share operational details
IAF’s supremacy of the East Pakistani skies,
the BBC report and the pinpoint, precision
IAF attack on the Governor’s House around
the same time as if coordinated, the feeling
of claustrophobia in the Pakistani leadership
due to the breakdown of their communication
channels, the Indian Army’s classic operational
victories, and the resolute will displayed
by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi made the
Pakistani leadership give up when it did.
The war could have lasted a few hours more
otherwise, with the same result but costing
On 9 Dec, Pakistani force blew up four sections
of the Ashuganj bridge, compelling 57 MOUNTAIN
DIVISION to heli-lift 4 Guards and 10 BIHAR across
the Meghna the same day. Later the whole of 311
MOUNTAIN BRIGADE concentrated at Narsingdi for
the main attack on Dacca which was planned on
65 MOUNTAIN REGIMENT deployed itself on the evening
of 14 Dec and fired into the heart of Dacca for
the first time.
The Central sector saw 101 COMMUNICATIONS ZONE
capture Mymensingh by 11 Dec. The Tangail airdrop
was an airborne operation mounted by 2 PARA on
11 Dec. The battalion group included an artillery
battery from 17 PARA FIELD REGIMENT, an Engineers
detachment and logistics elements. The objective
of the operation was to capture Poongli bridge
on the Jamuna river which would cut off 93 BRIGADE
of Pakistan army, which was retreating from the
north to defend Dacca and its approaches.
The airdrop was successfully carried out at 4.30
p.m. on 11 Dec.
BBC somehow reported that 5,000 paratroopers
(instead of 700) were para-dropped at Tangail
causing a scare among the Pakistani authorities.
The psychological fear was further accentuated
by the accurate bombing of the Governor’s residence
Maj Gen Jamshed Khan, who was responsible for
the security of Dacca, had no resources. It was
under these trying circumstances that 2 PARA,
13 GUARDS, 6 BIHAR, 4 GUARDS, 5 ( Independent
) ARMOURED SQUADRON were in Dacca on 16 December.
The surrender was ably negotiated by Maj Gen JFR
Jacob and signed within two hours of his meeting
with Pakistan’s Lt Gen AAK Niazi on 16 Dec 1971
at 4.30 p.m. at the Dacca Race Course. Lt Gen
Niazi wanted only ceasefire but Maj Gen Jacob
demanded surrender. But India accepted Lt Gen’s
Niazi’s demand that the nearly 93,000 Pakistani
officers and soldiers in the then East Pakistan
should be treated honourably as POWs under the
The same evening, Mrs Gandhi gave instructions
that all Pakistani combatants and non-combatants
who surrendered should be humanely treated and
their safety ensured.
This concluded the war in the East. And Bangladesh
was born within 13 days in one of the swiftest,
shortest, and successful wars in world history.
Ops Conduct-Western Sector
The Western sector witnessed Pakistani forays
in Poonch, Chhamb, and counter attacks by Pakistan
in the Shakargarh bulge and actions in J&K and
The Pakistani attack on Poonch was effectively
dealt by 93 INFANTRY BRIGADE and Pakistani infiltrating
forces on Thanpir ridge were also tackled. The
attack on the Chhamb sector saw heavy fighting.
Heavy artillery battles took place all over,
and in the Ferozepur sector in Punjab, an artillery
officer reported firing some 75,000 shells on
the Pakistanis to check their movement towards
the Indian city.
The Indian Air Force executed great bombing missions
by deploying AN 12 transport aircraft, and as
neither India nor Pakistan had aerial night fighting
capability, the AN 12s freely went in formations
of six during nights and did carpet bombing to
pulverize huge Pakistani formations. IAF’s Canberras
and Hunters did the designated hits during day
IAF veterans fondly speak of a young officer,
Wg Cdr Vidya Bhushan Vasisht of 44 SQUADRON (Transport),
who led sortie after sortie – as if in trance
– of AN 12s in their bombing runs. Notably, despite
the heavy ground fire, all the aircraft conducted
their missions safely and there was no loss at
Wg Cdr Vasisht was awarded the country's second
highest gallantry award, the MVC.
fought well but India had no objective to intrude
in the west.
Indian Army withdrew its 191 INFANTRY BRIGADE
on the East of Munnawar Tawi, which enabled 10
INFANTRY DIVISION to stabilise the situation.
Operations in the Shakargarh bulge by 1 CORPS
of Indian Army met with stiff resistance but operations
terminated at Basantar on the Pakistani side where
heavy tank battles took place. Indian tank columns
maneuvered through three heavy minefields to secure
In 11 CORPS sector, India achieved success in
Dera Baba Nanak but lost an enclave in 7 INFANTRY
DIVISION across the Sutlej but captured Sehjra
enclave which was a daunting task by 1/5 GR.
In the Southern Command theatre, 11 INFANTRY
DIVISION did a remarkable task by capturing Khokrapar,
Gadra city and the screen positions of Naya Chor.
In 12 INFANTRY DIVISION area, offensive operations
started on 4 Dec. However, these were to be called
off due to a strong Pakistani armour offensive
on to Longewala. This was beaten back by application
of Hunter jet fighters of the Indian Air Force
ably directed by Artillery’s Air Observation Post
Pakistanis wanted to capture some Indian territory
in the deserts so that it could be used as a bargaining
chip in post-war negotiations. Despite the disproportionate
strength of the Pakistanis, an Indian Infantry
Company of 23rd BATTALION of PUNJAB REGIMENT under
Major KS Chandpuri held on in one of the momentous
battles of the war. He fought cleverly and bravely,
led his men to destroy the first two lead tanks
of the advancing columns, coordinated with AOP
and IAF to direct artillery fire and IAF strikes.
The assault turned to be very expensive for the
Pakistan army which lost around 100 tanks and
vehicles. Their graveyard is still there to be
The Ladakh Scouts captured Turtuk and we also
captured posts in Kargil as also Tut Mar Gali
in J&K. The Indian Navy’s Western Naval Command
raided Karachi port on the night of 04/05 Dec
with three missile boats. They sank a destroyer,
crippled a mine sweeper and ignited the Karachi
oil refinery. With the surrender of the East on
16 Dec, a ceasefire was declared on the western
front on 17 Dec.
The 1971 Victory has been India’s greatest achievement.
This was possible due to unprecedented synergy
between all organs of the Government and of course
the greatest support of the people across the
nation. The lessons learnt from the war are applicable
today. It was a manifestation of the Comprehensive
National Power, which is actually always required.