Comilla-Chittagong Axis (1971 War)
Columnist Maj (Retd)
SHAMSHAD ALI KHAN looks at a particular battle area of 1971.
The purpose of this article is to record the events, as a participant, to make
a part of history for those who wish to know the facts. Although, as a nation,
we seldom look back and try to learn from history. Our favourite slogans are,
forget the past, forget and forgive, matti pao (bury under the sand), Mucmucca
(to settle an issue without reference to justice and fair play)
It is very seldom, in present times that a soldier goes to war. More so in
our case. Our wars are short and before entire army is committed it comes to
an end. During this short period not more than ten percent enrolled manpower
comes face to face with the enemy. Out of this ten percent some die in action
others are sacked and remaining are so few that their views get lost in the
high sounding and fabricated stories of those who never faced a bullet.
It is a sacred duty of all those soldiers who have taken part in combat to
record the facts without adulteration and exaggeration for the future generation
of service men of this country. It is in this spirit that I shall describe
the operation although serious fighting was not involved. Whatever I am going
to write is from the script I had prepared in reassembly camp at Manser after
repatriation when details were fresh in my mind
For description see sketch, ‘A’,. It is a corridor bounded by sea
on the west and range of hills on the east. The corridor is narrow in the south,
about 1000 meters wide in the area of Foujdar Hat and becomes broader as we
go up north. In the north is Fanny River with two bridges one for rail and
other for road. In the south is Chittagong port. Road and and railway line
run parallel to each other from Chittagong to Comilla.
Major settlements are given in sketch with approximate distances. The ground
is broken with innumerable water channels running from east to west. Tanks
will find difficult to move freely except on the road, which is higher than
surrounding area, and therefore wheeled vehicles cannot get off the road.
Growth is thick and the visibility is limited up to 200 meters.There are
small villages in addition to major settlements.
Following forces were available for the defence of Chittagong peninsula starting
from Fanny River down to the sea in the south.
(a) 24 FF
(b) A company of SSG
(c) 3 wings of EPCAF
(d) One wing of VP (vulnerable point) force
(e) One wing of ISF (Industrial security force)
(f) A Battery of 120 MM mortar
(g) Few gun boats with Navy
(h) One west Pakistan Ranger wing
(i) One Infantry Battalion (Bloach) for protection of port
Altogether there were 6,000 men. But considering their morale, equipment,
physical fitness, motivation, training and fighting capability it was on
more than a
In the month of November 71 this force was divided in two groups and placed
ad hoc Brigade HQ
(a) Brig Taskeen’s Brigade
(It was called as such)
-An Infantry Battalion commanded by Lt./Col. Raja Iqbal of Punjab Regiment
(Three companys of EPCAF and one of 24 FF.
-A Mujahid Battalion commanded by Lt./Col. Aftab of Blouch Regiment and
later by Lt./Col. Tajik of Artillery
.- All troops deployed North of Chittagong.
(b) Brig Atta’s Brigade
- Port Battalion commanded by a major
- 3 Company of 24 FF commanded by Lt./Col. Ashiq of FF
- All troops deployed in hill tracks, Rangamati and Captai commanded by
Lt./Col. Haneef of SSG.
Taskeen Force was to deny all approaches to Chittagong from north i.e.,
Comilla-Chittagong and Ramgarh axes.-Atta force to deny all approaches
from east i.e., Paptai-
Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar - Chittagong axes.
Col. Ghulam Hussein arrived at Chittagong in early Nov 1971 from West
Pakistan charged with responsibility to organize the defence of Chittagong
In the month of November a conference was held in log area HQ, which
I attended as a representative of EPCAF, to organize the defence of Chittagong
Col. Ghulam Hussein was in the chair. In the conference it was decided
that I and
a Col of EME (OC Workshop) will plan and prepare the defences on Comilla
-Chittagong axis for occupation by the troops falling back from Dhomghat
The fact that a Col from services was assigned the job which should have
been the responsibility of an officer from fighting arm, and there were
few of them available in Chittagong, was an indication how serious our
high command was in defending East Pakistan. In fact Col Ghulam Hussein
have done the planning himself. Since OC workshop was also not much interested
the responsibility was shifted to me.
The plan was made after proper reconnaissance and was submitted to Col
Ghulam Hussein but defences were not prepared on ground due to lack of
On this day I was at Chittagong looking after rear HQ of EPCAF and also
running a summary military court. In the evening through Radio Pakistan
I came to
know that war has formally been declared. Shortly after the broadcast
I received a phone call from Col. Raja Asghar who ordered me to report
the next day, 4th Dec.
DECEMBER 4, 71
The night passed very peacefully as compared to the preceding ones
in the sense that there was no small arm firing all around as it
was a normal
happening those days.
On first light I was preparing to move to Karar Hat when I heard
the crash of bombs being dropped by Indian war planes in port area.
air attack of 1971 war against Chittagong. I decided to first visit
the port and
then go to Karar Hat. The Indian aircraft were coming consecutively
in fours. There were no Pakistani war planes to oppose them. There
few AA guns
which fired without results.
I visited Dawood Petroleum, two oil tanks were burning and a ship
in the dockyard was hit by enemy aircraft. The port was completely
so was the
city. People remained confined to their houses. Road to Kara Hat
was also deserted. I reached Karar Hat at about 1000 hours to act
Raja Asghar as the actual 2IC Major Fakhar was taken away by Brig
Teskeenudin to act as his BM. The Battalion Command post was located
a mile short
of Karar Hat and the Brigade HQ was in area level crossing (see sketch
Three companies were deployed along the home bank of Fanny River
while the fourth one, commanded by Major Hafeez, was in area Zurar
company from FF was commanded by Capt. Tariq, 2 Wing EPCAF by Major
Saud and 11
by Major Bungush. A wing may be considered a heavy company with 200
men each. Apart from two wings mentioned above, about 1000 men were
Chittagong Division in the form of vulnerable point (VP) force and
industrial security force (ISF). These people were sent from West
Pakistan for the
protection of bridges, sensitive installations and industrial complexes.
They were armed
with .303 rifles. Officially I was sent from West Pakistan to command
Communication facilities were not as good as that of a regular Battalion.
There were no signal resources in Chittagong except those available
with EPCAF Sector
HQ and T&T lines.
No fighting took place on our front except sporadic Artillery fire
on our leading troops. However, bombardment was heavy on distant
8 Dec our
main activity was to listen news bulletins from all over the world
and proceedings of United Nations Security Council meetings. Fanny
7th or 8th Dec
and the Taskeen Force was ordered to withdraw and take up position
for the defence
PLAN OF DEFENCE
The entire force was to uproot from Fanni area and take-up position
between Fojdar Hat and Komira on night 8/9 Dec. Two screens were
to be established
one at Mirsarai and other at Sitakond to cover the withdrawal.
According to initial orders the screen at Mirsarai was to withdraw
at last light 9 Dec and that at Sitakond at last light 10 Dec giving
days to main force for preparing the defences.The screen at Mirsarai
was to be
commanded by Major Hafeez of EPCAF and that at Sitakond by myself.
I was acting as 2
I C of the Battalion and had no knowledge about the troops I was
Before I could locate the troops I was to command and move out
to take up position at Sitakond, I was ordered to lay out the
between Komeera and
Faujdarhat. I reached somewhere in the middle of Komeera and
1600 hours accompanied by the Raccee party of the main force
which comprised of a representative of each wing and the company 24 FF.Capt
of EPCAF was part of the Raccee party. The defence was organized
forward layer was manned by Major Bungush force starting from
sea in the east up to the road in the west. Right forward company
commanded by Capt. Tariq starting from the road on the left and
foot of the hill on
right. Behind Capt. Tariq was deployed Capt. Sarfaraz with his
force in second layer. The defences behind Major Bungush were
me to take
up position after withdrawal from Sitakond. A perfect plan as
per book. What actually happened is a different story.
Once finished with lay out of main defences I was ordered to
deploy Major Saud’s
force as advance position in area Komeera. I along with Major Saud mounted
the high ground where TB sanatorium stood.
The corridor was narrowest here. It was about a mile starting
from the sea in the east and ending at the foot of the hill in
the sea but could not see the water due to thick growth. I found
myself in terrible need of a binocular. Being from armoured corps
I was accustomed
to extensive use of binocular and it was one thing I longed to
have throughout the war. Such non-essentials were not issued
to us. All
the same, I briefed
Maj. Saud in a cursory manner and advised him how he could best
I reach Karchat after dark where three platoons were waiting
for me. We immediately started moving and reached Sitakond where
establish a screen. After
reaching there, late at night, we made ourselves comfortable
in the school building. Here I pinched some time to visit my
Chittagong to collect some important papers, which were left
4th Dec. I spent
that night at Hafeez Jute Mills and after a sumptuous breakfast
joined my force at Sitakond on the morning of 9 Dec.
It was on the morning of this day that I had a good look, for
the first time, of the men I was going to lead in battle ahead.
They were EPCAF men I had never seen before. I cannot use the
expression ‘troops’ in
relation to these men. Because troops normally denote a body of men which,
one can hope, will give fight. These were men of old age and raw recruits with
.303 rifles as their personal weapon. All of them belonged to West Pakistan.
They revealed to me that the recruiting authorities had told
them that they were going to East Pakistan to perform guard
taken aback when I told them that they were to face the Indian
army. The force also had few LMG / SMG and two 3 inch mortars
The crew was totally untrained.
There were no wireless sets to start with. We had some civilian
trucks and a Datsun pick up for my use. We were responsible
for own administration.
Enough ammunition and ration was collected from Chittagong,
which was loaded in trucks.
Our only communication link with Brigade HQ at Faujdarhat Cadet
the Battalion HQ, about a mile away in the north on Cadet College,
was through T&T line which ran parallel to railway track. My forward communication
was also through the same line. Only one telephone set was installed in a trench
cited on the main road, which was forward most communication point. My communication
with the platoons and inter-platoon communication was through voice or runner.
All the four telephones, i.e. leading trench, myself, Major
Saud in Komira. Battalion HQ and Brigade HQ at cadet college
on the same
series. Major Hafeez withdrew from Mirsarai at first light
on 9th as planned.Three
platoons of Al-Shams/Al-Badar reached as reinforcement. A wireless
set was also sent which never established communication with
the rear. The
operator had no knowledge of the set. After surrender I came
to know that the higher
HQ had great hopes in my force and considered it formidable
for the Indians to overcome. What a naivete.
Here lies the fault with our commanders who did not know about
the fighting capabilities of the troops under their command
However, I had no illusions and informed my superiors that
the reinforcements and the
troops under command are not likely to give a fight to a regular
In clear words I was to conduct rear guard action with the
force which was most unsuited for such an operation. In teaching
were told that
operation require young and energetic, highly trained, well-equipped,
highly mobile, having adequate communication arrangements and
Apart from the absence of above mentioned prerequisites, I
did not know the men at
all. I was apprehensive of their behaviour under fire.
Never the less I deployed the six platoons as shown in sketch
B.The platoons covered a frontage of 2000 yards. Between the
the left extreme
platoon there was a gap of two miles. Area on the left of the
road was comparatively
open while on the right of the road it had thick growth and
the visibility was restricted to two hundred yards. On the
in the foot of
the hill, across the railway line, there was a small village,
by us. Mortars were deployed 500 yards behind the front line.
Another 500 yards in the rear was the school building where
post was located.
To be continued.