When Indian Army’s Paratroopers Outfoxed Pakistan To Seal Dhaka’s Fate In 1971; Bangladesh War 1971
This photo of 50 Para brigade’s paradrop was used to represent Tangail mission. The Pakistan Army developed a “fortress
The Pakistan Army developed a “fortress strategy” to defend Dacca (now Dhaka) during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The East Pakistan army planned to create a fortress-like formation in cities around Dacca and then fall back to the capital when these “fortresses” fell. Fifty-two years ago, on December 11-12, the Indian Army outmanoeuvred the retreating Pakistani troops with an airborne operation to march forward towards Dhaka.
Dhaka is between the Padma River on its west and Meghna on its east. The Indian Army’s 2 and 33 Corps quickly marched deep into Bangladesh in districts west of the Jamna-Padma river. The Tezpur-based 4 corps started operations to cross the Meghna and finally enter Dhaka.
Behind Enemy Lines
The Pakistan army started retreating towards Dhaka after the “fortresses” started falling. The Indian Army outfoxed Pakistan with a battalion-sized airborne operation to take on a brigade that would eventually become one of the reasons for Lt Gen AAK Niazi, the commander of the East Pakistan army, to surrender.
Pakistan’s 93 Infantry Brigade started retreating from Jamalpur and Mymensingh, located north of Dhaka. The Indian Army did the unthinkable. 2 Para or 2nd Battalion of the Parachute regiment was airlifted from the Kalaikunda and Dum Dum bases in West Bengal and were para-dropped near Tangail, approximately 85 northwest of Dhaka, to capture the Poongli bridge on the Jamalpur-Tangail road and secure the ferry site over the Lohaganj river and intercept the 93 Infantry Brigade.
The Indian Air Force established air superiority in east Pakistan, making airborne operations like Tangail possible. Around 750 paratroopers of 2 Para under the command of Lt Col Kulwant Singh Pannu, aboard 6 An-12s, 20 Fairchild Packets and 22 Dakota aircraft were airborne for the mission with Gnats and Mig-21 providing air defence. The drop zone was located east of the Poongli bridge.
The Tangail airdrop was not a mission planned during the war but weeks before the official declaration. Indian Army Officer Captain PK Ghosh penetrated enemy lines in November to link up the Mukti Bahini’s commander Kader Siddiqui and mark the drop zone for the airborne operation. It was the largest airborne operation since World War 2 and the first in the Indian subcontinent.
Around 4:30 pm on December 11, around 750 paratroopers airborne from Kalaikunda and Dum Dum were dropped.
2 Para successfully captured the ferry site held by Pakistan’s two platoon-sized groups. The Pakistani troops, withdrawing towards Tangail, attacked the Poongli bridge but it was countered successfully by 2 Para. A wave of battalion-sized attacks from the flanks was carried out by Pakistan in which 143 soldiers were killed in action and two of their officers along with 29 soldiers, were captured. The 2 Para suffered three casualties.
Early morning on December 12, Pakistan launched two more attacks that were repulsed by 2 Para, with Pakistani troops suffering over 100 casualties. This was followed by an Indian Air Force air strike during the day and the 93 Infantry Brigade (approximately 2,000-3,000 men) ceased to exist.
Lt Col (later Major General) Kulwant Singh Pannu was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra. 2 Para was the first unit of the Indian Army to reach Dacca after linking up with 1 Mahar and entering Lt Gen Niazi’s office in the capital city. Ram Mohan Rao, the then Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the army, decided to use the operation for information warfare.
Newspapers were informed about the mission but no photo of the paradrop was present since no access was available. Ram Mohan Rao shared a picture he clicked a year ago in Agra when 50 Para Brigade (approximately 3,000 men) paradropped for an exercise, reports Nitin Gokhale from StratNews Global. Seeing 3,000 men in the photo paradropping over Tangail brought fear in the minds of the Pakistani army in the east and made the Tangail operation one of the reasons behind the surrender.