AMPHIBIOUS OP BEAVER IN 1971 WAR WAS A FIASCO LESSONS TO BE LEARNT —LEAVE BEACHING POINT TO NAVY AND DISCUSS LANDING POINT —-THE NAVY HELD SWAY ON THE EASTERN SEABOARD

From Warring Nuclear Nations by Ranjit B Rai 

Op Beaver in East Pakistan was to enable landing of one company 1/3 Gurkha Rifles, two companies 11 Bihar, 881 Light Battery with ASC and medical platoons under Brig SS Rai, South of Cox’s Bazar to prevent escape of Pakistani stragglers. The Army Chief, as Chairman Chiefs of Staff, Gen Manekshaw suggested the operation which NHQ planned for 12th  December. But Chief of Staff Eastern Army Command Maj Gen Jacob took charge and nominated the beach which had a bar from his WW 2 experience. NHQ had little option. 

The Navy’s biggest Landing Ship Tank (LST) INS Magar was a make-shift tanker for INS Vikrant (Jugad), so 2 smaller LSTs INS Gharial (Lt Cdr Sharma) and Guldar (Lt Cdr U Dabir) were nominated. A merchant ship MV Vishwa Vijay, with no toilets or cooking for 1500 jawans, embarked troops at Calcutta in an amazing manner organized by the Army and were transferred the LSTs at sea and went well. 

Maj Mastana AMC slipped and drowned. With dates of landing changing, the ships arrived late on 15th. Untrained Gurkhas not used to sea first landed into the deep bar and then deeper water , carrying heavy 85 lbs weights on their shoulders. In the rising tide, 3 drowned and 2 were saved and operations stopped till a rope was passed ashore by FGO. INS Gharial got stuck. A half hearted landing of some 170 personnel followed, luckily with no opposition, to be welcomed by the East Bengalis. 

On 13 December Gen. Manekshaw’s third message to Gen.Farman Ali re-emphasized the need to surrender to avoid bloodshed. President Nixon had discussions in the National Security Council to end the war. Mrs Gandhi at the Ramlila grounds hinted at USA’s anti-communist desire to stand for liberty, pointing to its contrary overtures to China, and yet siding with Pakistan in military pacts, even as East Pakistan’s voice of Independence was subjugated. Gen.Farman Ali asked UN Secretary-General U Thant’s help in repatriating his troops, which Gen. Yahya Khan asked to be disregarded. There was news of 5 Pak planes landing in Akyab, Burma to evacuate personnel. The Western sector saw comparative stalemate with aerial activity off Baroda and Jamnagar. Recapture of 3 posts in Kargil restored communications to Leh. 

IDF adds so Pakistan Army tried to take Kargil in 1999 and caught Indian Army by surprise another story in the book. Gen VP Malik wrote a fore-ward and fought with what we have by not crossing the LOC making LOC sacrosanct and accepted losses. Indian leadership does not like to lose an inch when strategy would have been to open another front and then negotiate by defeating the enemy which Government may not allow for fear of Nuclear exchange. Its Catch 22 for Indian Armed Forces. 

Dera Baba Nanak and Poonch sectors saw sporadic firing. An attack was planned in the Pathankot-Samba sector. Indian troops had scored a victory in the Chhamb. In Jaipur, Indian troops were moppingup after the battle for Nayachor. 

In the Bay: The period 11 to 14 December was most crucial to ensure a total Eastern blockade by the Indian Navy leading to an early surrender. Intelligence of Pakistan’s last-ditch stance is in a signal:-

 “Two coasters ready at Gupta crossing. A/A defences strengthened.

Runway repaired. Foreign ships cleared off the harbour. Own

[Pak] five merchant ships disguised. Naval personnel deployed in

defensive position and integrated with fortress defence. Further

mining of approaches will be carried out”.

 

Pakistan Navy, with British and Chinese mines, was being readied for defensive mining to disrupt the port of Chittagong. The C-in-C East, Krishnan informed the Fleet that senior enemy officers were planning escape to Burma by air or by hugging the coast and approaches to harbor were likely to be mined. His instructions were to put Chittagong airport out of commission; and attack ships both by air and surface units in harbour if they break out. “The enemy must be destroyed.”

 

In response, aircraft from the Vikrant pounded Chittagong, Barisal and Rajapur through 11 and 12 December. Cherinpa airfield 32 km north of Cox’s Bazar was attacked. The fleet exercise of closing in for bombardment called Naval Gunfire Support (NGFS), practiced on islands like Pigeon near Karwar and Batti Malv off the Andamans, became a reality. One ship reported :-

 

“The most conspicuous landmark, the twin casuarinas, was visible. Barely five miles off the town of Cox’s Bazar, in broad daylight, this was a most daring attack. The water turned a muddy brown as ships

crossed the 10 fathom line. The course altered to port to bombardment course 340 degrees. The flag atop the air-traffic control tower was now visible.”

 

“All Positions, this is GDP—we will carry out a direct bombardment,”, flashed the orders. A young sailor caressed every shell ready to settle an old score, for when his parents had to abandon home in Dacca due to atrocities. But his ears, like everybody, were trained for the order:-

 

“Four- five, engage.” The guns belched flame, the first salvos leaving the barrels found their mark and the control tower was hit. The Mukti Bahini a few days later informed the Captain of the Beas that when the tower was bombarded, a PAF officer named Miya Qasim was holding a conference and all were killed. This officer had perpetrated the most inhuman atrocities and was one of the most notorious Pakistani military tyrants in Bangladesh. 

Seeing warships so close with troop landings imminent, the enemy ran for dear life. A garrison left for Burma in a convoy of trucks; and the liberated town fell into the hands of freedom fighters. The following ships in Chittagong, Khulna, Chalna, Mongla and Pussur river were identified as wrecks: Pakistani naval ships—Town Class, 6 patrol boats; 3 Rajshhai class gunboats – PNS Jessore, Comilla, Sylhet;

6 other gunboats surrendered. Pak merchant ships damaged included Karnaphuli (6876 GRT); Surma (5890 GRT); Al Abbas (9142 GRT); Anis Baksh (6273 GRT); Only PNS Rajshhai, with all its personnel under the creditable command of Lt Sikandar Hayat, escaped with money and gold.

 

As the Media Saw It: The Indian Express: “The ‘Operation Bangladesh’ reached its climax when the battle for Dacca began.

An ‘adequate force’ was air-dropped in and around Dacca, and  foreigners evacuated. Indian troops have also launched an attack on Daulatpur cantonment in Khulna. The troops and naval forces are also closing in on the port of Chittagong. People were cheering as the IAF bombed the military targets and air-dropped troops. The Mukti Bahini was engaged in fierce fighting with 2,000 guerrillas operating in the city. 

While POWs were taken in mopping-up operations in Laksham and Chandpur, enemy troops began to get into their naval craft to escape. The Indian Navy sent many of these down to the bottom of the Bay of Bengal. Pheramara, Khaksha and Kumarkhali were liberated. The Kuthi-bari post of Rabindranath Tagore at Silaidaha and the ancestral house of revolutionary Jatindra Nath Mookerjee, are situated in the liberated areas. 

The Eastern Fleet continued airstrikes against Chittagong, with bombing raids at Rajapur and near Barisal, damaging military installations. Cheringa air strip, 32 km north of Cox’s Bazar, was also attacked. A PTI report on 13 December said, “Naval aircraft from INS Vikrant are creating havoc with every sortie in the coastal Bangladesh where the Pakistani military machine is still holding.

The surrender was coming and Navy contributed. Shan Na Varuna.

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