/The liberation of Bangladesh — the Indian armed forces’ finest hour

The liberation of Bangladesh — the Indian armed forces’ finest hour

16 December stands out in the history of the Indian military as the day when the Pakistani army surrendered in erstwhile East Pakistan, leading to the creation of an independent Bangladesh.

It was the finest hour for the Indian armed forces, and the day continues to be celebrated as ‘Vijay Diwas’ of the 1971 Indo-Pak War.

In a war fought on two fronts, in the East and the West, the victory was a credit to the successful co-ordination of all three arms of the Indian military.

While the Indian Air Force (IAF) achieved complete air superiority on both fronts, the Indian Navy led attacks on Karachi harbour in the West and on Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong and Mongla ports in the East. The navy had ensured a complete blockade.

The Indian Army, in fact, was able to reach Dacca (now Dhaka) in a span of 13 days from the official start of the war, even as the Liberation War had begun much earlier by the Mukti Bahini, freedom fighters led by the Bengali officers and men of the Pakistan Army’s East Bengal Regiment.

ThePrint looks at the factors that led to the victory.

The Soviet Help ::

The war came at a time when India’s diplomatic ties with the Western bloc of nations was rocky, particularly a hostile American government.

It was Moscow, however, which came to Indian aid, providing much needed muscle to the Indian armed forces. In the run-up to the war, India and the Soviet Union signed the Friendship Treaty in New Delhi on 9 August 1971.

As a result, the Indian Navy received Soviet Osa class missile boats, armed with P-15 anti-ship missiles, which the navy used during the attacks on Karachi.

The Soviets also stepped in during a crucial phase of the war.

As the conflict was underway, with the Indian Navy having achieved complete control of the Bay of Bengal, a US fleet entered the area on 15 December.

It was the US Navy’s 7th Fleet Task Force 74, comprising the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Enterprise with a host of other vessels, including the USS Tripoli (an amphibious assault carrier) with a 200-men Marine battalion on board with 25 assault helicopters; the USS King, the USS Decatur, the USS Parsons (all three guided missile destroyers); the USS Bausell, the USS Orleck, the USS McKean, USS Haleakala (all four destroyers) and one supply and support ship.

The primary task of this American task force was to evacuate Pakistani troops in case of a ceasefire, and engage the Indian Navy, if the need arose.

Not known to many at that time, and made aware much later, the Soviets deployed their submarines to tail the American Fleet and ensure that the latter knew of their presence.

The Soviet Navy was at that time headed by Admiral Sergei Gorshkov, and during a visit to India soon after the war, in 1972, he informed then Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral S.M. Nanda, that he had put two nuclear powered submarines behind the USS Enterprise, with instructions to sink it in case it tried to engage the Indians.

This first person interaction has been confirmed by Cmde Vijay Jerath, a Vir Chakra awardee and one of the missile boat commanders (INS Vinash) who struck Karachi on the night of 4 December 1971.

Jointmanship in Command ::

As the war drew to a close in the East, and the surrender of the Pakistani army was eminent, the Chief of Staff of the Indian Army’s Eastern Command, Major General (later Lieutenant General) JFR Jacob, was sent to Dacca (Dhaka) to confer with Lieutenant General AAK Niazi, the Commander of the Pakistan Eastern Command in erstwhile East Pakistan, and to agree to the surrender.

In New Delhi, the Indian Army Chief, General (Later Field Marshal) Sam Manekshaw, instructed Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, the General Officer commanding the Indian and Bangladesh Forces, to be the one to accept the surrender in the presence of the Air Force and Naval commanders of the respective Eastern Commands.

With Major General Jacob having in-principle agreement of a surrender from General Niazi on the evening of 16 December 1971, General Aurora landed at the Tejgaon Airfield in Dhaka, accompanied by Vice Admiral N. Krishnan, Flag Officer Commanding in Chief Eastern Naval Command, and Air Marshal Harish Chandra Dewan, Air Officer Commanding in Chief of the Eastern Naval Command to accept the surrender.

Gen Aurora was also accompanied by his wife, Bhagwant Kaur.