Independence Day Special: How India overcame Pakistan in 1947-48 conflict and again in 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war

Written By: Rustam Roy

As India celebrates its Independence Day, here is a look at how our defence forces overcame Pakistan just after independence in Kashmir in 1947-48 and again during the Bangaldesh war

Spitfires launch attack on Pak intruders

In October 1947, Pakistani militiamen tried to enter Srinagar as the Maharaja of Kashmir asked for India's help. India's Royal Indian Army and Royal Indian Air Force swung into action with Tempest fighter bomber aircraft and Dakota light transport aircraft.

The RIAF landed three Dakotas in Srinagar's airfield with troops of the 1st Sikh Regiment as Tempest, Spitfires and Harvards provided close air support to the Army.

The Indian troops took up tactical positions in the important towns along the Jammu-Srinagar Highway at Sunderbani, Naushera, Borripatam, Bhimber, Mirpur, Kothi, Rajouri and Poonch.


Spitfires secure Srinagar airfield

The legendry Spitfires which had blazed a trail against the Nazi Air Force planes in World War II just a few ago were responsible for the strafing of intruders beyond Pattan.

The Pakistani intruders were no match for the elite Spitfires as it broke their resistance. The Srinagar airfield was secured as Pakistani intruders headed for cover.

Flight officer Dilbag Singh was the hero of the mission. He rose to the rank of Air Chief Marshal and retired as the Chief of Air Staff.


Pakistani intruders suffer huge casualties

The Tempest RIAF squadron also played a decisive role in the battle of Shelatang halting Pakistani infiltrators.

In a daring move, Air Commodore Mehar Singh, with Major General Thimayya as passenger led a flight of six Dakotas of 12 squadron RIAF across the high mountain ranges of Himalayas, negotiating the Zojila and Fatula Passes and landed at an improvised sandy airstrip next to the Indus river

According to the Air Force,  large scale operations in Jammu and Kashmir were planned, directed and conducted almost entirely by Indian officers.

During the long campaign, the small RIAF lost a total of 32 officers and men. According to an estimate, Pakistani intruders suffered 20,000 casualties, including 6,000 killed.

Squadron Leader D Subia and Sqn Ldr RS Kalavaniwala accurately and repeatedly attacked enemy positions at Gurais, Zoji La, Pindras, Rajauri winning Vir Chakra awards.


Jammu Brigade

Even civilians acted like heroes in these operations as washerman Ram Chander won a MVC for rescuing an officer. Another civilian, a porter named M. Ismail also won a MVC for similar heroism on the Zoji La front.

It was the first military campaign forced on India after her Independence and the Army and Air Force won laurels for the country pushing back the Pakistanis.

The Army was set up in Jammu and Kashmir comprising of an Army HQ at Srinagar and four brigades. The four brigades were the Jammu Brigade, the Kashmir Brigade, the Mirpur Brigade and the Punch Brigade.

The four brigades between them had only eight infantry battalions.


Indian Army reinforces Leh

The Indian Army defeated the Pakistani invaders as Major Som Nath Sharma became the first recipient of the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), India's highest award for valour equivalent to the Victoria Cross.

Finding its forces withdrawing from Jammu and the Valley, Pakistan launched a fresh offensive through the Northern Territories commencing February 1948.

The Indian Army reinforced Leh with a regular battalion. On 1 November 1948, an Indian brigade group supported by 7 Cavalry comprising Stuart tanks broke through Zojila Pass and relentlessly drove out the invaders from Ladakh district.

A ceasefire came into effect on 1 January 1949 after bitter fighting lasting 14 months.


'You surrender or we wipe you out'

In 1971 India's defence forces held sway as  Pakistan army surrendered to Indian forces unconditionally when General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi with 94,000 troops surrendered to India. The war lasted just 12 days from December 4 to 16.

It is also known as the Bangladesh Liberation War, 1971.

India's Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw told the Pakistani general explicitly "You surrender or we wipe you out" on December 13 as Pakistan Army crumbled due to India's sustained ground and air assault in the western and eastern front.

On 14 December, IAF attacked a house where a meeting was taking place of the governor of east Pakistan. The Indian Army captured Bogra, Sylhet Railway Station, Pubail & Rupganj.


Manekshaw's war

Manekshaw who was the Army chief during the 1971 operation was the first Indian Army officer to be promoted to the rank of Field Marshal.

A veteran of the Burma campaign for the British forces in World War II, India's Field Marshal was involved in the Kashmir affairs during the contentious months of 1947 as the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession.

He was appointed as the eighth chief of Army staff on 8 June, 1969. "Sam Bahadur" as he was known in the Army, especially among his troops was credited with taking full strategic control of the Bangladesh operation under PM Indira Gandhi.


India's finest hour

Bangladesh became an independent nation. Mujibur Rahman was released from a West Pakistani prison, returning to Dhaka on January 10, 1972 and becoming the first President of Bangladesh.

On December 12, 1971, the Indian Army captured Hardinge bridge, Khetlal & Madhupur. Narsingdi was built as a base to capture Dhaka.

The 1971 Indo-Pak conflict started when the Pak army conducted a widespread genocide against the Bengali population of then East Pakistan. 

PM Indira Gandhi expressed full support of her government for the independence struggle of the people of East Pakistan and decided to go to war against Pakistan after India's neighbour attacked.


Pakistan loses eastern wing forever

While India's grip on East Pakistan tightened, the IAF continued to press home attacks against Pakistan. The campaign then developed into a series of daylight anti-airfield, anti-radar and close-support attacks by fighters.

Hostilities officially ended on December 17 after the fall of Dhaka on December 15. 

India claimed large gains of territory in West Pakistan and the independence of Pakistan's eastern wing as Bangladesh was confirmed.


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