Battle of Garibpur turns 50, marks India-Pakistan's first encounter in 1971 War of Independence
Dhaka, November 21: Sunday (November 21) marks the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Garibpur, considered as India and Pakistan's first direct engagement in Bangladesh's War of Independence. Armed with tanks and fighter jets, the Indian and Pakistani troops met at Garibpur near Khulna's Boyra.
According to numerous reports, the Indian soldiers mauled their Pakistani counterparts, destroying 13 M24 Chaffee light tanks and two F-86 Sabres (fighter jet). Two Pakistani Air Force officials were captured by the Muktibahini.
One of the main protagonists of the Battle of Garibpur, Brigadier Balram Singh Mehta, the second-in-command of India's then 45th Cavalry C Squadron, still believes that they could have advanced to Jessore Cantonment in East Pakistan following the victory in the battle of Garibpur, with the permission of the Indian authorities.
"But we had no such instructions. Our squadron commander Major Daljit Singh Narang died in the battle, otherwise, by occupying Jessore, Garibpur could have paved the way for the fall of West Pakistan long before 16 December," Mehta told Bangla Tribune.
Reports said Pakistani tanks and warplanes fired from Garibpur into Indian territory and into the Mukti Bahini camps, taking advantage of the fact that the Indian territory is on three sides of that area of Garibpur.
Two weeks before India's then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had officially declared war, the Indian forces had decided to carry out a counter operation through the Garibpur front, with the help of the Bangladeshi freedom fighters.
Three Indian Army officers who took part in the war directly or later wrote or researched about it shared their experiences with the Bangla Tribune:
Brigadier Balram Singh Mehta said, "I was then the second-in-command of the 45th Cavalry Squadron. We had Russian PT-76 tanks in our fleet. Together with the 14th Punjab Battalion, on the night of 20th November, we crossed the Kabadak river and entered the border of Garibpur under the cover of darkness and thick fog. The war was about to start. I could hear conversation about it. But it hadn't started then. We are the first Indian army to cross the international border.
Shortly after dawn on the 21st, the Pakistani tank fleet started fighting with our tanks. They had 14 American Chaffee tanks with them. Major Daljit Singh Narang, the commander of our squadron, lost his life in the Pakistani shelling almost at the beginning of the war. As a result, the responsibility of conducting the war fell on me.
Just then my tank started malfunctioning. Meanwhile, three Pakistani tanks surrounded us. Almost miraculously we managed to bring down all three tanks. When their gunner was coming out of a Pakistani tank, I stopped the gunner in my tank from firing at him. Later, when we took him prisoner of war and gave him tea and biscuits, he was still giving thanks.
In my book 'Burning Chaffees', I have written in detail about how we won the battle of Garibpur. I still believe that if we had been allowed to go straight to Jessore after the success of Garibpur, the war might have ended that day."
Colonel TS Sidhu said, "I was then one of the troop leaders of the 45th Cavalry C Squadron. In the battle of Garibpur, both my legs were severely injured. Later, luckily, I was saved from having to cut off my legs. But personally my injury is not important at all. On the contrary, the unimaginable success of India and Mukti Bahini in that war was a great thing.
"There is no other instance in the military history of the world where the two sides fought 14 tanks face to face, and all the tanks of one side were destroyed, while the other side suffered no casualties. The battle of Garibpur was exactly that miserable situation for Pakistan. We had only two tanks slightly damaged.
During that war, my gunman lost his life when a Pakistani tank shell hit our tank. The others and I jumped out and started crawling towards our positions. I had a white handkerchief in my pocket, which I kept waving and crawling so that our infantry would not accidentally shoot at us, but in the meanwhile about a couple of hundred splinters got into my legs and I continued to suffer unbearably. I get the chills to this day, thinking about our victory that day."
Major General Amrit Pal Singh said, “Although I was not fortunate enough to fight in the battle of Garibpur, I have learned a lot about this unforgettable battle. The battle of Garibpur was fought on the ground as well as in the sky. In that first air war, Pakistan's Sabre warplane was shot down. Hundreds of members of the Mukti Bahini and the Indian Army, local villagers were overjoyed to see the scene from the ground below.
A total of four Pakistani warplanes were shot down and damaged that day, while not a single Indian Air Force fighter jet was scratched. Due to this huge push, Pakistan probably did not use any other aircraft in that sector during the entire war.
The two pilots who were bailed out of a downed Pakistani warplane were taken prisoner of war by members of the Mukti Bahini. One of them, Pervez Mehdi Qureshi, became the chief of the Pakistan Air Force in 1996, almost 25 years after the incident.
When Air Marshal Qureshi was the Chief of the Pakistan Air Force in 1996, Indian Air Force Group Captain Donald Lazarus wrote a congratulatory letter to him, saying, "We have only met once before — in combat situations, and in the skies of Garibpur!" Unexpectedly, the letter was answered. Air Marshal Qureshi wrote in reply, "I still remember that extraordinary fight of the Indian forces."
Meanwhile, Bollywood is making a film on the Battle of Garibpur.
The project has been named Pippa and stars Ishaan Khatter.
The war film is based on the book The Burning Chaffees by Brigadier Mehta