As part of 52nd Vijay Diwas Celebrations, commemorating the victory of Indian Armed Forces and Mukti Bahini over Pakistani Forces in 1971 War, a memorial service for those Killed in Action was held at Vijay Smarak at Fort William, Kolkata on 16 December 2023.
A few Kolkata-based officers of Indian Armed Forces,Lieutenant General Utpal Bhattacharya, Vice Admiral Bimalendu Guha, Wing Commander DJS Kler, Naval Officer Uttam Kumar Chakravarty and Brigadier Prasanta Kumar Ghosh, recollect those days, which are forever engraved in their memories.
Lieutenant General Utpal Bhattacharya, former Director General of Engineering Services of Indian Army trained Mukti Bahinis those days.
“My colleague, an Infantry Officer was getting them ready with some dose of weapon training and I of course being a Sapper officer teaching them about the demolitions, how to handle explosives, basically boat burning and earth scorching. This continued till the month of August. My parent unit which was in NEFA,as on today’s date which is a hot sector( Tawang) came down to Silchar in Assam and I joined them in August. From here my Regiment moved to Agartala and subsequently it was clear that we were going to be a part of the “Great Eastern Thrust”.
Former chief of India’s eastern fleet, Vice-Admiral Bimalendu Guha,shared his thoughts. “I was born in Dakha .My early schooling was in Dhaka.So it’s really a very nostalgic moment for me.We never thought we were fighting for Bangladesh, we thought we were actually fighting for our family.”
“The Preparation has started from March 1971.During war I was on board INS Brahmaputra. We intervened militarily only after all possibilities of stopping the bloodbath failed. And when our forces entered East Pakistan, the Bengalis complained why we have been so late.The Bengalis actually wanted us to intervene earlier to save themselves.
Wing Commander Devender Jeet Singh Kler handled this critical emergency in an exemplary manner. Ajeet aircraft is known for its difficult handling characteristics and has resulted in accidents, many of them fatal, under such trying conditions. He displayed great professional skill, fine judgment and airmanship of the highest order. His devotion to duty is in the finest traditions of our service where in he saved a valuable combat aircraft even though this entailed grave risk to his won life.For his professional skill, fine judgment, airmanship of a high order and efficient handling of a grave emergency, the President is pleased to award Vayu Sena Medal to him.
“My plane was hit and we lost the engine, we were diverted to Jessore.If I would have landed, I would have been the 1st Indian pilot to land at Jessore but because of huge boulders on the runway , we had to pull up and head for DumDum Airport.”.Wing Commander Kler said.
An Officer of the Indian Navy Uttam Kumar Chakravarty worked as a photographer during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war took PNS Gazi’s last photographs.”During the 1971 war, I was posted at the Eastern Naval Command HQ, in Naval Intelligence office under the Naval InIntelligenc Officer,
Lieutenant Commander Nirmal Kumar Mukherjee, as a leading photographer.”On 4th December at about 0300hrs.I was awakened by a Naval Policeman who informed me that he had been sent to carry me to a patrolling ship INS. Abhay urgently as per instructions from NIO. He also told me to carry a camera, a flash light, and sufficient films. The ship was ready to cast off from the jetty and as soon as I stepped on board, the ship set sail for the sea.
The Commanding Officer of the ship called me and briefed me about the operation search and rescue of PNS. Gazi which had been sunk by our ship INS Rajput. A team of Divers was also present there. The visibility was very poor due to fog. So, we were unable to trace any sign of a sunken submarine. After searching for about two hours, the day dawned and the visibility also improved a lot and after some time we could see some oil floating on the water surface near the entrance of the harbour. The divers were lowered into the sea for searching and after about an hour they could trace the sunken submarine, which was in three pieces. Then the second team of the divers was sent to retrieve some broken parts of the submarine, the divers also retrieved some documents like the submarine’s log book, route charts, etc. From the documents retrieved, it was confirmed that the sunken submarine was PNS Gazi.
Later on, 8 dead bodies were brought on board our ship. The body of the Captain of the submarine was also brought on board and a pocket diary was found in his shirt’s pocket,in which he wrote a message in the form of a poem to his mehbooba that he was going on a mission to India to destroy the Indian Navy’s Aircraft carrier INS Vikrant or else he would die in the war. I took photographs of all the items retrieved from the sunken submarine. We returned to the jetty in the evening. Thank God that we all returned safely where there was every possibility of an explosion of some of the mines they laid on the seabed or some of the torpedoes they had on board the submarine. On returning to the base, I was asked to develop the films immediately and make prints out of the negatives, and hand over those to the NIO.It was indeed a remarkable day in my life which I shall cherish forever.”
Brigadier Prasanta Kumar Ghosh, was assigned a very difficult task in the Eastern Theatre of creating road blocks, intercepting enemy convoys and inflicting casualties on the enemy. “I went into East Pakistan wearing a lungi and a half sleeve shirt with a cotton Shawl, took a Jhola (hand bag) also.My code name was Peter and I was supposed to become a freelance journalist who came there in search of good stories. I was assisted by a little boy who knew the local dialect and it was made clear to me that if I get caught, the army will disclaim any knowledge of my activity in East Pakistan,” said Brigadier Ghosh.
Looking back after 52 years, these warriors feel “it seems unlikely that we will have another war of this type as most of the conflicts are along the borders and end that way only”.
Even after half a century Lieutenant General Utpal Bhattacharya feels ”Now a days Indian Army has improved a lot, technologically and modern warfare in every way.As well as Army is concerned no matter how much you improve, how much acknowledgment you get… it’s never enough. There is still room for improvement. But as far as Indian Army is concerned, we are absolutely compatible with any Army in the world.”
The success in 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war, however, came at a price for India — nearly 3,900 Indian soldiers were killed and nearly 10,000 others injured, with many left to suffer from life-long disabilities.
In short, Bangladesh should never forget the contribution of the Indian Armed Forces in their Liberation war but for which they couldn’t have achieved their freedom.
Source: Indian Army
(PRATYUSHA MUKHERJEE, a Senior Independent journalist working for western media with 20 years of experience in covering the east and northeast, with specialisation in Defence and Sports.In her illustrated career she has covered many major events and achieved International and National media awards for Journalism).