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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Bangladesh@50: The heroes who helped win the 1971 Indo-Pak war

Without them, the 1971 Indo-Pak war could not have been won. On the 50th anniversary of the war that also saw a new nation — Bangladesh — being created on the eastern front. The Indian Express recounts the battlefield bravery of 18 of them

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina | Chandigarh |
Updated: December 16, 2021 8:50:44 am
A slodier cleans his gun as another writes a letter, during the 1971 war. (Express Archive)

Flying Officer N J S Sekhon,

Param Vir Chakra

Flying Officer Sekhon was a pilot of a Gnat detachment based at Srinagar. On December 14, 1971, Srinagar airfield was attacked by a wave of six enemy Sabre aircraft. Sekhon took off and engaged a pair of the Sabres. In the fight that ensued, he secured hits on one aircraft and set another on fire. By this time, the other Sabre aircraft came to the aid of their companions and Sekhon’s Gnat was outnumbered, this time by four to one. Even though alone, Sekhon engaged the enemy in an unequal combat. In the fight that followed, at treetop height, he was eventually overcome by the sheer weight of numbers. His aircraft crashed and he was killed.

Brig AS Bal, 17 Horse,

Maha Vir Chakra

Then Major A S Bal was commanding a squadron of 17 Horse during the battle of the Basantar River in the Shakargarh Sector of the Western Front. On December 15 and 16, 1971, the enemy launched a number of armoured counter-attacks against the Jarpal position. Though heavily outnumbered, Bal displayed exemplary courage, determination and aggressive spirit and by his personal example motivated troops to remain steadfast and resolute, thus repulsing attacks with heavy casualties to the enemy.

Maj B S Mankotia, 9 Punjab,

Maha Vir Chakra

Then Major Basdev Singh Mankotia was holding a screen position at Ranian on the Western Front. Between December 3 and 5, 1971, the enemy launched seven attacks against this position, but these were repulsed with heavy casualties to the enemy. With a portion of the screen over-run, he personally led a counter-attack and regained the lost ground. Even though seriously wounded in the shoulder on December 3, he refused to be evacuated in view of the importance of this screen position. By personal example of courage and disregard for personal safety, he inspired the men under his command to perform acts of commendable gallantry.

Petty Officer Chiman Singh, Indian Navy

Maha Vir Chakra

Leading Seaman C Singh was member of a ship which attacked enemy targets in the Mongla and Khulna area from December 8 to 11, 1971. While operating off Khulna, his boat was sunk. He was badly wounded by shrapnel. Enemy shore defences opened fire at the survivors in the water. Chaman Singh noticed that two survivors, including an officer, were finding it difficult to keep afloat. In spite of the injuries, he went to their rescue and escorted them to the shore through heavy enemy fire. In spite of his wound, he rushed at the enemy, making it possible for his two colleagues to escape from being captured.

Capt D S Ahlawat, 10 Dogra

Maha Vir Chakra

Captain D S Ahlawat was leading a Dogra company during the attack on the Dera Baba Nanak bridgehead on the night of December 5, 1971. The enemy defences were based on a series of concrete embankments with anti-tank guns and heavy and light automatics. The company led by Ahlawat came under heavy gunfire from a concrete pillbox. With complete disregard for his life, he charged the pillbox, grabbed the machine gun barrel with his right hand and threw a grenade into the pillbox and silenced the gun, thus making it possible to maintain the momentum of the attack and overrun the objective. Ahlawat lost his life in the action. His body was found with six bullet wounds — his hand still clutching the machine gun barrel.

Air Commodore Harcharan Singh Mangat, IAF

Maha Vir Chakra

As the commanding officer of fighter bomber squadron, the aircraft of then Wing Commander Harcharan Singh Mangat, while on a strike mission inside Pakistan, was hit thrice by anti-aircraft fire but he pressed forward until he found that the other aircraft in his formation had also suffered serious damage. At this point, enemy interceptors came on the scene. Despite this, he extricated his formation from the hazardous situation and led it safely back to base. On landing, it was found that his aircraft was extensively damaged. Only superb flying skill enabled him to bring it back to safe landing.

Maj Gen H S Kler, Signals

Maha Vir Chakra

Brigadier Hardev Singh Kler was commanding a mountain brigade on the Eastern Front during the operation against Pakistan. He led the advance from Jamalpur up to Turag River. During the action in this advance, Kler was personally present with the leading troops and directed the operations with complete disregard for his life. By personally going into the thick of the battle, he inspired his troops who had laid siege behind enemy positions south of Jamalpur. He inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy and captured 379 prisoners as well as large quantities of weapons and ammunition.

Lt Gen J S Gharaya, Bihar Regt

Maha Vir Chakra

Brigadier  J S Gharaya was commanding an infantry brigade in the Eastern Front in Jessore Sector on  December 6, 1971. His brigade was attacked on four successive occasions and despite heavy casualties, they stood the ground due largely to his excellent tactical handling, outstanding courage, constant presence and guidance. His conduct was responsible for heavy enemy losses and their withdrawal. During the subsequent offensive operations, Gharaya was with the leading troops when he was severely wounded by enemy fire. He refused to be evacuated till he had seen the attack through as the success of this attack was vital to our further advance in Bangladesh.

Brig Kuldeep Singh Chandpur, Punjab Regt

Maha Vir Chakra

Then Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri was commanding a company battalion of the Punjab Regiment occupying a defended locality in the Rajasthan Sector. In the early hours of December 5, 1971, the enemy launched a massive attack with infantry and tanks. Showing exceptional courage and determination, he inspired his men moving from bunker to bunker, encouraging them in beating back the enemy till reinforcements arrived. In this heroic defence, he inflicted heavy causalities on the enemy and forced them to retreat leaving behind 12 tanks.

Major Malkiat Singh, 14 Punjab

Maha Vir Chakra

Then Subedar Malkiat Singh was commanding a platoon of a battalion of Punjab Regiment, which was occupying a defended area on the Eastern Front. His position was attacked by Pakistan infantry and armour. Malkiat Singh moved from trench to trench encouraging his men. The enemy came within 50 yards and subjected his position to effective light machine gunfire and grenades from covered positions. With utter disregard for his own safety, he crawled forward to engage the enemy and, even though wounded, killed two enemy gunners before being hit by a tank as a result of which he died.

Subedar Major and Honourary Capt Mohinder Singh, 18 Punjab

Maha Vir Chakra

Subedar Mohinder Singh was commanding a platoon of a battalion of Punjab Regiment in an attack on a well-fortified enemy post supported by medium machine guns in the Kargil Sector. Mohinder Singh exhorted and inspired his men by personal example to maintain momentum of the attack. With utter disregard for his personal safety, he charged forward, destroyed one of the medium machine gun bunkers and inflicted casualties on the enemy in close combat.

Brig N S Sandhu, 10 Dogra

Maha Vir Chakra

On the night of December 5, 1971, then Lieutenant Colonel Narinder Singh Sandhu, who was commanding a battalion of the Dogra Regiment, was given the task of capturing the enemy position in the Western Sector. The enemy defences were extensively fortified with an elaborate system of pillboxes with machine guns and anti-tank weapon emplacements, which were connected to each other, by a tunnelling system. During the attack all along the route, Sandhu remained foremost. As soon as the objective was captured, he was there personally to guide and help in the reorganisation. In spite of the fact that he had got a bullet injury in his leg, he continued to lead his men.

Brig R N Sharma, 21 Punjab

Maha Vir Chakra

Lieutenant Colonel Rattan Nath Sharma was commanding a battalion of the Punjab Regiment in the Poonch area in the Jammu and Kashmir Sector. His battalion was assigned the task of capturing an important enemy locality situated on a dominating feature. This was a well-prepared locality held in strength by the enemy. During the assault, the enemy brought down intense artillery and small arms fire inflicting heavy casualties on our troops. Undeterred and with complete disregard for his personal safety, Sharma encouraged his men and inspired them to achieve the objective.

Brig Sant Singh, Sikh LI

Maha Vir Chakra

Brigadier Sant Singh, while commanding a sector on the Eastern Front, achieved spectacular results with a mixed force, having one regular battalion, advancing 38 miles almost on foot, to secure Mymensingh and Madhopur in eight days. In spite of stiff opposition from the enemy, he cleared heavily defended positions at several places. Throughout these actions, Sant Singh led and directed the troops, exposing himself to enemy medium machine gunfire and shelling. His personal gallantry, leadership, skilful handling of meagre resources, audacity, improvisation and maximum use of local resources were responsible for the successful and rapid advance against much stronger enemy in well-prepared defensive positions.

Second Lt SS Samra, 8 Guards

Maha Vir Chakra

Second Lieutenant Shamsher Singh Samra was a platoon commander in 8th battalion of the Brigade of Guards engaged in action on the Eastern Front. During the action, troops came under heavy and accurate fire from automatic weapons. Undaunted, Samra encouraged his men to press home the attack. When the officer was about 25 yards from the position, he received a medium machine gun burst in the chest. Undeterred, he charged and destroyed the gun bunker with a grenade. He rushed to a second bunker, when he was hit by another burst as a result of which he died with the grenade still in his hand. In this action, Samra displayed conspicuous bravery and determination and made the supreme sacrifice.

Lance Naik Shangara Singh, 2 Sikh

Maha Vir Chakra

On December 17, 1971, during the attack on Pul Kanjari, a strong position held by enemy in the Amritsar sector, the platoon in which Lance Naik Shangara Singh was serving, came under heavy enemy fire, particularly from two machine guns on the left flank. Shangara Singh was second in command of the left flanking section. In utter disregard for personal safety, Shangara Singh made a dash through the minefield towards the first machine gun post and hurled a grenade inside the bunker successfully silencing the gun. Then he charged the second machine gun post, leapt over the loophole and succeeded in physically snatching the gun. In doing so, he received a burst of fire in his abdomen, but undeterred he continued to hold the machine gun. The enemy was unnerved and fled leaving the machine gun in Shangara Singh’s hands. Elimination of these guns enabled our troops to over-run the enemy post, but Shangara Singh succumbed to his injuries.

Brig Sukhjit Singh, 14 Horse

Maha Vir Chakra

Lieutenant Colonel Sukhjit Singh was commanding an armoured regiment during the operations against Pakistan on the Western Front. On December 10, 1971, his regiment was deployed west of Naina Kot when the enemy launched an armoured attack under cover of intense medium artillery and heavy mortar fire. He placed himself in the most threatened sector and under heavy shelling and tank fire, opened the cupola of his tank so that he could observe and direct the fire of his tanks effectively. Due to his presence and inspiring leadership, the enemy attack was beaten off without any loss to own troops. Then on December 11, he personally led an outflanking force and under heavy medium artillery and mortar fire closed in on the enemy and destroyed eight tanks and captured one officer, two junior commissioned officers and two other ranks.

Major VR Chowdhary, Engineers

Maha Vir Chakra

Major V R Chowdhary was in charge of minefield clearance of Chakra on the Western Front. The safe lanes had to be made with great speed to enable tanks and anti-tank weapons to reach Chakra, which was in imminent danger of a counterattack by enemy. Chowdhary personally supervised the operation. Throughout the advance, from December 5 onwards, he displayed exemplary devotion to duty and was responsible for clearance of minefields of 1,000-1,500 yards depth at Thakurdwara, Lohra and Basantar River. While supervising the minefield lane near Basantar River, he was killed due to enemy artillery fire.

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