Major Operations in 1971 Indo-Pak War

On the Indian side the leader was Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the Defence Minister was Babu Jagjivan Ram. The Chief of Army Staff was General S.H.J.F. Manekshaw, the Chief of Air Staff was Air Chief Marshal P.C. Lal and the Chief of Naval Staff was Admiral S.M. Nanda.

On the Pakistani side were General Yahya Khan as the military ruler and Lieutenant General A.A.K. Niazi as the commander of Pakistan’s Eastern Command under whose control was East Pakistan.

The Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered immediate mobilization of troops and to respond to the strikes under the overall command of General Sam Manekshaw (later became Field Marshal). Army, Navy and Airforce took part in the war as one team.

Air Operations

A notable aspect of the war is that all three wings of the Indian military - army, navy and air force - were involved in a well coordinated manner on both the fronts. The Indian air force provided aerial support for the ground forces. The Indian air force achieved complete air superiority at the Eastern front, as well as in the Western front.

The aircrafts that were used by the IAF, were the MiG 21s, Canberras, Hunters besides, Gnats and others, and on the Pakistani side were the F-86 Sabre Jets, F104 Star Fighters and others. The role played by MIG 21 aircrafts needs highlighting as it was used efficiently by way of continuous bombing and providing air cover for ground troops during the war.

The Ground Operations

Eastern Front: The war took place on two fronts - Western front in the Punjab-Jammu borders and the Eastern front in East Pakistan. Indian Army planned and carried out attacks into East Pakistan from all sides. The strategy adopted here was quick, three-pronged assault of nine infantry divisions with attached armoured units and close air support that rapidly entered into the capital city Dhaka of East Pakistan.

Under the command of General Officer Commanding in Chief of India Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora of Eastern Command the objective of capturing and taking Dhaka was fully realized. Pakistan Army surrendered on 16 December 1971. It took only 13 days to defeat the Pakistan army.

Western Front: On the Western front the main battles were fought in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Rajasthan. As in the past, Pakistan first attacked Poonch and Chamb. Attack in Poonch was over within 3 days. In Chamb too Indian 10 Infantry Division fought a gallant battle. Pakistan however, managed to capture Mandiala Heights. Because of heavy losses it pulled back and Indian army reoccupied the lost positions. Indian army also captured some important heights in Kargil. In Punjab the noteworthy attack was in Shakargarh which is an area opposite Pathankot.

In the Rajasthan Sector, Pakistan attacked Longewal. Indian Army counter attacked which forced the Pakistan army to withdraw. At that time two Hunter aircrafts of IAF attacked the withdrawing armour and destroyed a number of Pakistani tanks. Indian attack went into and captured the town of Naya Chor.

The Naval Operations

The war also saw some very brave actions at sea. The Western, Southern and Eastern Naval Commands were actively used during the various operations. Two important operations worth mentioning in the naval war were ‘Operation Trident’ and ‘Operation Python’ both of which were launched in the Western front to attack Pakistan’s Karachi port.

The plan was to launch an offensive on Karachi port and destroy it. Accordingly, the Indian Navy’s Western Naval Command under Vice Admiral S.N. Kohli launched a surprise attack on the 4th and 5th December 1971 under code name Operation Trident in which missile boats INS Nipat, INS Nirghat and INS Veer armed with missiles were used.

Four days later another naval Operation Python was launched. Both operations were successful in destroying Pakistani ships and thereby reducing their capacity to launch naval attacks against India.

At the Eastern front too Indian navy played a remarkable role. The strategy was aimed at not allowing Pakistan to use its Eastern port of Chittagong for reinforcements to attack Indian positions and hence the Indian navy deployed its only aircraft carrier INS Vikrant in the Bay of Bengal. The Indian Eastern Naval Command was under Vice Admiral N. Krishnan who successfully isolated East Pakistan by a naval blockade and trapped their navy in their ports. Besides INS Vikrant notable Indian navy ships that took part in the naval war effort are INS Guldar, INS Gharial and INS Magar and many other submarines.

The End of the War

This was a short and a decisive war that lasted only 13 days. On all fronts the Indian action relied on leadership, speed, logistics and accuracy and exploited the weakness in enemy’s positions resulting in swift victory. The Pakistani side could not match the superiority and speed with which the Indian armed forces were attacking right from day one.

Besides, the Pakistani side also lacked, intelligence, strategy and the troops were demoralised and ill equipped to fight. Hence they faced big losses and yielded in less than a fortnight. There was panic in the Pakistani Eastern Command’s military leadership commanded by Lieutenant General A.A.K. Niazi.

Indian advances demoralized the Pakistani soldiers and subsequently, the Indian Army encircled Dacca. On 16th December an ultimatum was issued to surrender and on hearing the ultimatum Lieutenant-General A.A.K. Niazi surrendered and signed the instrument of surrender to Lieutenant General J.S. Aurora.

On the same day Pakistan called for unilateral ceasefire and surrendered its combined military to Indian Army. 93,000 troops were taken as Prisoners of War thereby ending war. And with that the objective of liberating East Pakistan was realized and a new nation Bangladesh was born.