East Pakistan Air Operations, 1971

East Pakistan Air Operations, 1971
East Pakistan Air Operations
Part of Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
Date 2–16 December 1971
Location Bangladesh, then East Pakistan
Result Defeat of Pakistan Air Force Eastern Contingent
Indian tactical and strategic victory
Indian Air Force gained absolute air superiority over East Pakistan Air Force

 Indian Air Force
 Bangladesh Air Force


 Pakistan Air Force

Commanders and leaders
Air Mshl H. Dewan
Gp.Capt. A.K. Khandkar
Air CDRE Patrick D. Callaghan
Air CDRE Enamul Huq
Lt.Col. L.A. Bukhari
Bangladesh Air Force: Kilo Flight

Indian Air Force Eastern Command:
3 Mig 21FL Squadrons
4 Hawker Hunter Squadrons
3 Folland Gnat Squadrons
1 Canberra Squadron
1 Sukhoi Su-7 BMK Squadron
2 Squadrons each of Mi-4 and Aluette III Helicopters

Pakistan Air Force:

17 Canadair Sabre, 2 T-33 Trainer, 8 Helicopters.

Casualties and losses
19 aircraft lost by IAF to various causes.[1] 5 Sabres shot down,[2]
11 Sabers and 2 T-33 scuttled,[3]
1 helicopter shot down or abandoned[1][citation needed]

East Pakistan Air Operations incorporate the interdiction, air defence, ground support, and logistics missions flown by the Indian Air Force and the Bangladesh Air Force in support of the advancing Mitro Bahini (called Operation Cactus Lilly) in the eastern theatre of the Indo-Pakistani conflict of 1971. Although the first of the engagements between the opposing airpowers occurred before the formal declaration of hostilities, the events described below include only those conducted after the declaration of war. Indian Air force also helped the Mukti Bahini form a formation of light aircraft called Kilo flight, which was manned and serviced by Bengali pilots and technicians who had defected from the Pakistan Air Force. This unit had launched attacks on targets in Bangladesh on December 3, 1971, prior to the start of formal combat between India and Pakistan.



The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 was one of the defining conflicts which led to the birth of the new nation of Bangladesh. The engagements between the Mitro Bahini against the Pakistani Army lasted a short but intense 14 days, between 3 December and 16 December 1971. The speedy conclusion was only possible because the objectives set by the Mitro Bahini in the east were achieved in that time. This was only possible due to excellent co-ordination between the Indian Army, Air Force, and the Navy and the Mukti Bahini.

Although the western theatre saw engagements that have defined the rules of 20th century warfare, including the Battle of Longewala, Operation Trident, as well as Battle of the bases between the two rival Air Forces, the eastern theatre would be marked by a near total domination by the Indian Forces and the Mitro Bahini. Two major reasons stand out, the first and major was the fact that the Bengali population and the Awami League led resistance had already greatly weakened the Pakistani Forces. The second, and possibly equally important, is the total air supremacy that the IAF came to achieve within the opening days of the war.

The Eastern Theater: Historical Background

East Pakistan saw no air combat when Pakistan and India came to blows over Kashmir in 1947, although both countries possessed functional air forces. All Pakistani air assets were deployed in West Pakistan at the time, and India also concentrated on the Western front as well. India began upgrading its air capabilities on its eastern border after the war–in 1958 the Eastern operational group was formed in Kolkata, which was upgraded into a command the following year. Following the Sino-Indian War of 1962, the Eastern Air command HQ shifted to Shillong and extensive efforts to increase its operational capabilities (in terms of number of squadrons and modernization of its warplanes and operational infrastructure) began, as added emphasis was given to countering any possible Chinese threat. In contrast, Pakistan High Command posted only 1 squadron of 12 F-86 Canadair Sabres in East Pakistan. The Sabres were deployed at Dhaka on October 1964,[4] while PAF infrastructure development in the province was largely ignored.

1965 Indo-Pakistan War: Eastern Theater

Air forces of both countries actively launched attacks against each other during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 in the eastern theater. The IAF bombed airfields and airstrips located in East Pakistan (at Chittagong, Dhaka, Lalmanurhat and Jessore) and the PAF managed to launch two celebrated raids on the Indian Air Force base at Kalaikudda, West Bengal. The PAF raids, which took place on September 7, destroyed several Canberra bombers and Vampire aircraft on the ground[5] while the IAF claimed 2 aerial kills (Pakistani sources record 1 F-86 lost). The first PAF Kalaikudda raid by 5 Sabres had achieved total surprise but the second wave was opposed by Indian interceptors, leading to the loss. The PAF also launched attacks on Bagdogra on September 10 and Barrackpur on September 14, with varying results. The IAF did hit back with airstrikes on Dacca, Jessore and Lalmunirhat, but failed to destroy any aircraft. Mid-air interceptions and dogfights rarely happened, and barring some skirmishing between the EPR and BSF along the border, the air forces of both countries provided most of the combat activities in the eastern theater during the 1965 War. The final tally was 12 Indian aircraft destroyed on the ground (PAF claim is 21 aircraft destroyed)[6] and 2 Pakistani Sabres shot down[7] (PAF records one aircraft lost) and 1 PAF Sabre lost due to accident. Following the war, the IAF continued its steady growth in combat capacity, while Pakistan boosted its squadron strength to 20 planes, although it neglected to expand its operational infrastructure substantially.

PAF during Operation Searchlight in 1971

PAF had 20 Canadair Sabres (No 14. Squadron Tail-choppers),[8] three T-33 trainers and two helicopters stationed in East Pakistan, while army aviation squadron No.4 had eight helicopters present for service. PAF operational effectiveness suffered a little because most Bengali pilots and technicians had been grounded during the political unrest in March 1971. Air Commodore Mitthy Masud, AOC East Pakistan was replaced by Air Commodore Enamul Huq in March 1971, because the former officer opposed any form of armed action against civilians.[9] When Operation Searchlight was launched to quell the Awami League led political movement, PAF contribution was crucial to its success.

Pakistan high command had been using four C-130 Hercules planes and the entire PIA fleet was employed to transfer troops to East Pakistan and after the war started, two entire infantry division in an operation dubbed Great Fly-In was airlifted to East Pakistan from West Pakistan between March 26 – May 2.[10] The Pakistani airplanes had to make the trip to East Pakistan via Sri Lanka as overflights over India had been banned since February 1971. Moving two entire infantry divisions, which were sorely needed to bolster the army in East Pakistan where it was facing stiff opposition in a span of two weeks was a vital factor in sustaining the army operation. Most Pakistani army bases in East Pakistan had been cut off from each other since March 29 and Helicopters and C-130 planes were used to ferry troops and munitions to army bases cut off from supplies and surrounded by the Mukti Bahini, and this proved crucial for the initial survival and ultimate success of the Pakistani troops during the early phases of the battle.[11][12][13] Helicopters also evacuated the Pakistani wounded from isolated bases, acted as artillery spotters, flew reconnaissance missions over hostile territory and dropped combat troops off in remote places to outflank and cutoff Mukti Bahini positions.[14] The PAF enjoyed total air supremacy during March – November as the Mukti Bahini lacked both planes and air defense capability to counter their efforts, and flew nearly 100 to 170 sorties[9] between March – November in support of the army. Pakistani forces defeated the Bengali resistance by mid-May 1971 and occupied the province by June, 1971. The PAF had requisitioned and jury-rigged crop dusters and light civilian aircraft to augment its recon and ground attack capabilities during this period.

PAF preparations for Indian intervention

Pakistan high command was fully aware that the IAF considerably outnumbered the PAF eastern detachment and they held the qualitative edge as well in the eastern theater. Pakistani planners had anticipated the PAF being neutralized with 24 hours of the IAF commencing combat operations over East Pakistan.[15] There was only one fully functional airbase (at Tejgaon near Dhaka) in East Pakistan, all the satellite air bases in the province lacked the service facilities for sustaining prolonged operations. The PAF had plans to deploy a squadron of Shenyang F-6 planes at Kurmitola (Now Shahjalal International Airport) in 1971, these planes were temporarily deployed but ultimately withdrawn because, although the runway was functional at that base, the base was not fully functional to support the planes. and the lack of infrastructure meant PAF could not deploy additional planes.[16] This marginalization or neglect of East Pakistan defense since 1948 had hamstrung the PAF Eastern contingent in 1971, when its capabilities was put to the test. Pakistan deployed no additional air defence assets other than the one light Ack-Ack regiment and a few batteries to assist the PAF in 1971. The 6th light Ack Ack guarded Dhaka,[17] 46th Light Ack-Ack battery was in Chittagong,[18] and elements of the 43rd Ack-Ack were present in areas around East Pakistan. The caliber of the regiment was not enhanced to heavy, and no SAMs were deployed in East Pakistan. The only long range radar (Russian P-35 model) was also taken to West Pakistan along with all the C-130 Hercules planes.[9] Several Dummies were deployed at the airbases to deceive the IAF. To augment the short radar cover, which could now provide only a 3-5 minute warning to the planes, observers were deployed around the country armed with radios and telephones. They in turn were exposed to Mukti Bahini attacks, which reduced their effectiveness. The IAF had flown reconnaissance flights over East Pakistan since June 1971 and had engaged their opponents earlier in the east than they did in the west, having clashed with PAF over the Salient of Boyra in West Bengal on 22 November. Between then and 3 December 1971, there were no engagements of the two airforces. Pakistanis had lost 3 planes (2 shot down and 1 damaged) on November 22 over Boyra, so were down to 17 operational Sabres in December 1971 as no replacement aircraft were sent from West Pakistan.

IAF Operations in 1971

The IAF had assembled units from the Central and Eastern Air commands in Eastern command bases for the campaign by December 1971. The Central Air Command HQ was located at Allahabad while the Eastern Command was HQed in Shillong, so Air Marshal P.C Lal created an advanced HQ at Fort William to better coordinate matters after a consultation with Lt. Gen. Jacob, COS Army Eastern Command.[19] in addition to redrawing the operational boundaries of the respective commands for the campaign. Several Central Command units were temporarily housed in Eastern Air Command bases for the duration of the campaign.

Eastern Air Command Order of Battle 1971

Location of IAF, PAF and BAF units on December 1971 in and around Bangladesh. Some unit locations are not shown. Map not to exact scale

Western Sector:[20] (Operating on the west of Jamuna river)

  • No. 22 Squadron (Swifts): Folland Gnat MK 1 Dumdum, then Kalaikudda, then Calcutta (WC Sikand)
  • No. 30 Squadron (Charging Rhinos): Mig 21 FL — Kalaikudda (WC Chudda) - Fighter Interceptor
  • No. 14 Squadron (Bulls): Hawker Hunter F. MK 56 - Kalaikudda (WC Sundersan) - Fighter
  • No. 16 Squadron (Rattlers): Canberra - Kalaikudda - (WC Gautum) - Bomber
  • No. 221 Squadron (Valiants): Su-7 BMK – Fighter/Bomber
  • No. 7 Squadron (Battle Axes): Hawker Hunter F. MK 56 and 2 F. MK 1 - Bagdogra (WC Ceolho, then WC Suri). The squadron was moved Chamb after December 12.
  • No. 104 (Alluotte 3) and No. 104 (Mi-4) Heli units

North East and North Western Sector:[20] (Areas to the East of Jamuna River)
CO: Air Vice Marshal Devasher HQ: Shillong

  • No. 17 Squadron (Golden Arrows): Hawker Hunter F MK 56 - Hashimara (WC Chatrath)
  • No 37 Squadron (Black Panthers): Hawker Hunter F MK 10 - Hashimara (WC Kaul)
  • No. 4 Squadron (Oorials): Mig 21 FL Gauhati (WC JV Gole)
  • No. 24 Squadron (Hunting Hawks): Folland Gnat Gauhati (WC Bhadwar)
  • No. 15 Squadron (Flying Lancers): Folland Gnat — Gauhati then Agortala (WC Singh)
  • No. 28 Squadron (First Supersonics): Mig 21FL Gauhati (WC Bishnu)
  • No. 105 (Mi-4) and 121 (Alouette III) Helicopter Squadrons — Agartola

Mukti Bahini airforce: Kilo Flight

The Indian Army was helping the Mukti Bahini through Operation Jackpot since May 1971, while the Indian navy had helped set up the Bengali Naval commando unit and had provided command staff for the Bengali gunboats which were busy mining riverine crafts and harassing merchant marine operations in East Pakistan. The IAF could not come to grips with the PAF until formal hostilities commenced, but the Bengali airmen joined the act when 9 Bengali pilots and 50 technicians, formally of the PAF and serving with the Mukti Bahini in various capacity were gathered for a special mission on 28 September 1971 at Dimapur in Nagaland.[21] A number of Bengali civilian pilots from the PIA later joined this group. Indian civilian authorities and the IAF donated 1 DC-3 Dakota (gifted by the Maharaja of Jodhpor), 1 Twin Otter plane and 1 Alouette III helicopter for the new born Bangladesh Air Force, which was to take advantage of the lack of night fighting capability of the PAF to launch hit and run attacks on sensitive targets inside Bangladesh from the air. The Bengali rank and file fixed up the WWII vintage runway at Dimapur, then added began rigging the aircraft for combat duty. The Dakota was modified to carry 5,000 lb (2,300 kg) bombs, but for technical reasons it was used to ferry Bangladesh government personnel, Captain Abdul Khalek, Captain Alamgir Satter and Captain Abdul Mukit, all destined to earn the Bir Pratik award, piloted the Dakota. The Helicopter was rigged to fire 14 rockets from pylons attached to its side and had .303 Browning machine guns attached to it, in addition to having 1-inch (25 mm) steel plate welded to its floor for extra protection. Squadron Leader Sultan Mahmood, Flight Lieutenant Bodiul Alam and Captain Shahabuddin, all of whom later won the Bir Uttam award, operated the helicopter. The Otter boasted 7 rockets under each of its wings and could launch ten 25 pound bombs. The bombs were rolled out by hand through a makeshift door. Flight Lt. Shamsul Alam, along with Captains Akram Ahmed and Sharfuddin Ahmad flew the Otter, all three were later awarded Bir Uttam for their service in 1971. This tiny force was dubbed Kilo Flight, the first fighting formation of Bangladesh Air force.

Under the command of Group Captain A.K. Khandkar and Squadron Leader Sultan Mahmood, intense training took place in night flying and instrumental navigation. After 2 months of training, the formation was activated for combat. The first sortie was scheduled to take place on November 28, but was moved back 6 days to December 2, 1971. The Otter (Flown by Flight Lt. Shamsul Alam , co pilot FL Akram) was moved to Kailashsahar, and was prepared for a mission against targets in Chittagong. The Helicopter (Pilot Flight Lt. Sultan Mahmood and Fl. Lt. Bodiul Alam) was to hit Narayangang, flying from Teliamura, near Agartola.

In the early hours of December 3, 1971, the twin otter and the helicopter took off from their respective bases and hit the oil depots at Naryanganj and Chittagong,[22] which the Mukti Bahini guerrillas had been unable to sabotage due to the tight security.[23] Ironically, the PAF initiated Operation Chengis Khan on the same night, and the IAF commenced offensive operations in the East from December 3, 1971. Kilo flight would in total fly 12 missions in 1971, hitting various targets in Chittagong, Naryanganj and Bhairab.[21] The formation base was moved from Dimapur to Shamshernagar after it was liberated on December 4, then finally was moved to Agartala before the end of the war. the BAF contingent was present in Dhaka when the surrender ceremony took place on December 16, 1971.

IAF commences Operations: December 3, 1971

Following the preemptive strike by the PAF on its airfields in the western sector, the IAF went into action on the midnight of 3 December 1971. However, the western air campaign was, at least in the initial days, limited to striking PAF forward bases and providing ground support, but was not aimed at achieving air supremacy. In the east, however, faced with only the No. 14 Squadron defending the whole sector, the Eastern Air Command was given the task to achieve total air dominance, which ultimately it did.

On 3 December Pakistan launched what was intended to be a decisive pre-emptive strike against Indian airfields, but managed only 28 sorties, spread thinly and with insufficient accuracy to cause serious damage. The IAF hit back with retaliatory strikes which proved more successful, and at sea, the Indian Navy sank a Pakistani submarine (actually leased from the US Navy, and the only Pakistani vessel with enough range to threathen India's fleet), leaving Bay of Bengal clear for operations by the carrier Vikrant. From then on Pakistan was forced on the defensive by numerically superior Indian forces.

The PAF's handful of Sabres at Tezgaon near Dacca in East Pakistan put up a useful resistance against all out attacks by Indian fighers from 4 December. Between 4 and 11 of the attackers were claimed shot down in air combat, with 17 more lost to ground fire. Five Sabres were shot down in air combat. On 6 December, an IAF attack cratered the runways at both Tezgaon and Kurmitola, effectively putting them out of action for the rest of the campaign. Apart from the IAF squadrons deployed in the East Bengal, India's sole aircraft-carrier INS Vikrant (with its Sea Hawk fighter bombers and Breguet Alize ASW aircraft) mounted attacks against the civil airport at Cox's bazaar and Chittagong harbor. The embryo Bangladesh air force, with three DHC Otters (fitted with machine guns) of Mukti Bahini Air Wing made an appearance on 7 December. Indian airborne troops, in battalion strength, made an assault on Dacca on 11 December usnig An-12s, and Fairchild C-119Gs. This was preceded on 7 December by a heliborne infantry assault by two companies, in some nine Mil Mi-4s and Mi-8s, escorted by 'gunship' Alouttes.[24]

3–4 December

Canberra bombers struck Tejgaon repeatedly on the night of 3 December. The PAF No. 14 operated only Sabres which lacked night fighting capability, so the bombers were opposed only by the guns of the Pakistani light ack-ack regiment. By the morning of 4 December, however, strike missions against Tejgaon were assigned to Hunters of the No. 7, No. 14 sqn, No. 17 sqn and No.37 sqn, Su-7s (No. 221 Sqn) and MiG-21s (No. 28 sqn).

The first daytime raids in East Pakistan were flown by Hunters of No.17 Sqn and these were given top cover by four MiG-21s from No.28 Sqn. It proved unnecessary, the Hunters shot down one Sabre when intercepted before the rendezvous took place. No. 14 sqn also struck Kurmitola AFB, hitting the Hangars and Installations with rockets. By the afternoon, Hunter's would strike Narayangunj fuel depots. Hunters from No. 14 Sqn also struck Chittagong Harbour on the morning of 4 December. In an afternoon strike on Tejgaon by MiGs from 28 Sqn, a Twin otter was destroyed on the ground.

For the interceptors sent up to challenge the strikes, PAF was to suffer the loss of three Sabres in dog fights over Dhaka, two to Hunters striking Kumitola. Of these, Wg Cdr S M Ahmed and Flt. Lt. Saeed ejected safely over the village of Ghazipur, but were not found by search parties and were listed as "missing" for the duration of the war. Later reports would suggest that both pilots were killed by hostile local populace.[25]

Though not programmed or required to fly, Ahmad had insisted — in keeping with the PAF's tradition of its seniors leading in combat — and was soon in the thick of battle with 4 Hunters, joined minutes later by some MiG-21s and Su-7s. In the melee, the Hunters' leader shot down Ahmad’s F-86, forcing him to eject 5 miles from Kurmitola; despite an air and ground search he was never found. Rashidi, in the meanwhile, successfully extricated himself from the 'one-versus-several' situation just as another pair of PAF F-86s, comprising Sdn. Ldr. Afzaal and Flt. Lt. Saeed, was engaging 3 Hunters, a few miles away. Both Afzaal and Saeed were immediately set upon by another Hunter and was himself shot down. Only minutes later Afzaal had avenged this loss by chasing a MiG-21 and shooting it down. Although Saeed had ejected safely, he too was never found; reportedly both Saeed and Ahmad were taken away by Mukti supporters.

The last of the Sabres lost that day was to an afternoon strike on Narayangunj, Fg Off Sajjad Noor was shot down while attempting to engage a strike by Hunters from No. 14Sqn. Noor ejected safely over the village of Zinjira and was later rescued.[25]

The IAF also suffered some of its heaviest losses on these missions, losing six Hunters and one Su-7. No. 7 sqn, on a strike mission against an ammunition train at Lal Munir Hat, would suffer one Pilot- Flt Lt A R Da Costa KIA, along with the loss of two Hunters- both hit by fierce ground fire and crashing in Indian territory. One of the pilots of the stricken planes, Sqn Ldr S K Gupta safely ejected at Bagdogra.[26] No. 14 Sqn also lost two Hunters on the day to ack ack. Both the pilots, Sqn Ldr K D Mehra and Flt Lt K C Tremenhere, ejected safely.[26] Tremenhere was taken POW while Mehra managed to evade capture and get back to Indian territory. The highest price of the day was however, paid by No. 37 Sqn, which suffered the death of two pilots- Sqn Ldr S B Samanta and Fg Off S G Khonde.[26] No. 221 Sqn was to suffer one Su-7 shot down with the pilot, Sqn Ldr V. Bhutani taken POW.[26]

IAF Canberra planes had also struck Chittagong airport, oil tanks and refinery on December 4, and lost 2 planes but managed to damage the installations. In total the PAF had flown 32 operational sorties against IAF incursions on December 4 and had expanded 30,000 rounds of ammunition, while the ground based weapons had fired 70,000 rounds, the highest expenditure per day per aircraft of ammunition in the history of the PAF. Pakistani authorities claimed between 10 to 12 IAF planes destroyed, and took measures to conserve ammunition in anticipation of a long war.

5–7 December

People of Dhaka witnessed thrilling low-level dogfights throughout 4 and 5 December. The IAF concentrated in attacking the aircraft on the ground. However, for the dear price paid, it failed to cause significant damage to the PAF assets in well-dispersed and camouflaged locations. IAF also flew ground support missions, and the lessening pressure meant that the PAF managed to fly some ground support missions over Comilla and other areas. In total 20 operational sorties were flown by the Sabres, and 12,000 rounds of ammunition were used up during December 5 by the PAF.[27] By the evening of 5 December the IAF realised that a change of tactic was necessary. The Ack-Ack regiment managed to defend the airbase during 5 December and the night of the early hours of the 6th against Indian attacks successfully.

On the morning of 6 December four MiG-21s (No. 28 Sqn), flying from Gauhati at very low level, climbed up to 5,000 m and dived at 900 km/h, hitting Tejgaon airstrip with 500 kg bombs, scoring several hits on the runway, and rendering it unusable for operations. The airport was without air cover at that time, as a PAF ground support mission had just landed and the duty flight had not taken off.[28] Two craters, ten meters deep and twenty meters wide, separated by 1200 meters had rendered the runway unusable (the bombs were BETAB-500, anti-airstrip ordnance). However, Kurmitola was to remain operational till the morning of 7 December, when Mig-21s of No. 28 Sqn again hit that runway. No. 7 Sqn was pulled out of the eastern ops on the 6 December to help the army in the west. Repeated attack by MiG-21s and Hunters of No. 14 and No.28 however, kept the runway cratered. An aviation website noted : "A notable fact remains that the MiG-21FL was neither as easy to fly nor to operate in combat under conditions the IAF had to expect in the case of a new war with Pakistan. It was designed as simple point-defence fighter-interceptor that was to operate under close GCI-control and attack its targets from the rear hemisphere with R-3S (ASCC-Code AA-2 Atoll) heat-seeking missiles. However, pleased with the speed and handling of the MiGs during operational conversions, Indian pilots trained intensively and gained not only considerable confidence, but also expertise. The Indians were to use it as an air superiority fighter as well as fighter bomber over extended ranges and well inside the enemy airspace, with minimal or no GCI-support at all." [29]

Effectively, MiG-21 had success as interdiction-strike aircraft, taking-out an important air base with only eight sorties. The results of the IAF's assault was that by 7 December, the PAF in the East was effectively grounded. The IAF also bombed other airfields including the abandoned WWII airfields of Comilla, Lal Munir Hat and Shamsher Nagar throughout the war, denying their use to PAF planes that may be moved by road, as well as to any external aerial reinforcement. Jessore Airfield had come under Mitro Bahini control by this time, so it was spared. Pakistani authorities made repeated attempts to repair the runways. Airforce and army engineers, helped by civilian workers, worked round the clock during Dec 6-7, and by 4:50 AM Dec 7, only 8 hours of respite was needed to regain fully operational status at Tejgaon, However, the IAF hit the base on the 7th, and it was estimated 36 hours of work without further damage was needed to make the base operational again. The IAF ensured no such respite took place. In desperation, it was suggested that the broad streets at second capital be used as runways, but technical problems ruled out that possibility—grounding the PAF Sabres forever in East Pakistan.

PAF fighter pilots were sent to West Pakistan via Burma on 8 December and 9 December when it became clear at least 36 hours of uninterrupted work was needed to fix the runways and the ack-ack units were unable to keep the IAF away. Pakistani authorities claimed that between 4–15 December the IAF had lost 22 to 24 aircraft, 7 to the PAF and the rest to ack-ack units.[30] The IAF records 19 aircraft lost in East Pakistan, 3 in air combat, 6 to accidents and the rest to ack-ack while 5 Sabres were shot down by IAF planes.[31] After the liberation of Dhaka, 13 airframes were found at the Tejgaon airport by the Mitro Bahini in various states of sabotage.[32] 2 T-33 trainers were inoperable, but 8 Sabres were made operational later.[citation needed] 5 of them were incorporated in the Bangladesh Air Force in 1972. The Pakistan HQ had issued orders to blow up the aircraft, but Air Commodore Enam had pointed out that the sight of burning planes would demoralize the Pakistani troops defending Dacca.[9] PAF personnel destroyed the ammunition stocks and sabotaged the electric and hydraulic systems of the aircraft on 15 December.

The PAF continued to use helicopters at night to fly reinforcements to remote bases and airlift munitions. Prior to the surrender of Pakistan Eastern Command on 16 December the Army Aviation squadron, commanded by Lt. Col. Liaquat Bokhari, escaped to Burma with selected personnel, including Maj. Gen. Rahim Khan (GOC 39th Ad Hoc division).[33]

Operations in Support of Ground Forces

Dacca Govt. House, seat of the East Pakistan Civilian administration, after a strike by Mig 21s of No. 28 Sqn on the morning of 14th December.

With the PAF in the east effectively neutralised, the IAF could now concentrate in supporting their advancing army. Movements of Pakistani troops during day time came to a virtual halt due to relentless IAF air attack. Ferries across major river crossings were sunk by the IAF thus denying the Pak army its line of retreat to Dhaka. On 7 December, INS Vikrant, the navy's sole aircraft carrier at the time, joined the operation. Sea Hawks operating from the deck of Vikrant struck Chittagong harbour, Cox's Bazar and Barisal. Whatever remained of the Pakistani Navy was destroyed or sunk. The airfields in Cox's Bazar, Chiringa and Feni were made inoperative.

On 10 December IAF helilifted troops of the IV Corps from Ashuganj to Raipura and Narsingi in what came to be termed the Operation Cactus-Lilly (also known as the Helibridge over Meghna). Entire Brigade strengths were lifted over the River Meghna, allowing the Indian Army to continue their advance in spite of stiff resistance at Ashuganj, where the retreating Pakistani Army also blew up the Bridge.

To the south of this area near Chandpur, the 39 division (CO: General Rahim Khan) HQ at had requested evacuation by river on December 8. Under the escort of a gunboat, the flotilla, made up of local launches sailed in the early hours of December 10. The IAF spotted and bombed the ships, which were either sunk or beached themselves and failed to reach Dhaka.[34] The survivors later were evacuated by ships operating at night and by helicopters.

On 11 December, India airdropped Para Bn Gp 130 in the now famous Tangail airdrop. The operation involved An-12, C-119s, 2 Caribous and Dakotas from 11 sqn and 48 Sn. In total, about 1000 troops were airdropped. The only hitch was one paratrooper who a static line hangup. Gnats from No. 22 sqn provided top cover for the operation, which ultimately went unhindered. Also on the 11th of December three converted An-12s from the No.44 Squadron struck the Jaydebpur Ordnance factory in East Pakistan.

On the morning of 14 December, a message was intercepted by Indian Intelligence of a high-level meeting of the civilian administration in East Pakistan and a decision was made to mount an attack. Within 15 minutes interception of the message, a strike was launched against Dhaka. Armed with tourist guide maps of the city, four Mig 21s of No. 28 Sqn got Airborne. A few minutes had passed after the meeting had started, when the IAF MIG's came screaming & blasted the Governors House with 57 mm rockets in the first, thereby ripping the massive roof of the main hall and turning the building into a smouldering wreck. The Governor of East Pakistan, Mr. A H Malik, was so shocked with the incident that he resigned on the spot by writing on a piece of paper and thereby renouncing all ties with the West Pakistani administration, to take refuge at the Red Cross Center in Dhaka.

Fate of Pakistan Navy in East Pakistan

Pakistan Forces GHQ had declined a substantial naval contingent for the defense of East Pakistan for two reasons: they had inadequate ships to challenge the Indian navy on both fronts and the PAF in the east was not deemed strong enough to protect the ships from Indian airpower (The IAF and Indian Navy air arm). The fate of Pakistani naval vessels in December was ample proof of the soundness of this decision and the repercussion of neglecting East Pakistan defense infrastructure (the reason PAF could only station 1 squadron of planes there). Pakistan Eastern Command had planned to fight the war without the navy and faced with a hopeless task against overwhelming odds, the navy planned to remain in the ports when war broke out.[35]

The Pakistan Navy had 4 Gunboats (PNS Jessore, Rajshahi, Comilla, and Sylhet), all 345 ton vessels capable of attaining a maximum speed of 20 knots (37 km/h), were crewed by 29 sailors and fitted with 40/60 mm cannons and machine guns in East Pakistan. 1 patrol boat (‘’Balaghat’’) and 17 armed boats (armed with 12.7mm/20mm guns and/or .50 or.303 Browning machine guns) in addition to various civilian owned Pakistan forces requisitioned and jury rigged boats armed with various weapons were also part of the Pakistan naval contingent.[36] The improvised armed boats were adequate for patrolling and anti-insurgency ops but hopelessly out of place in conventional warfare. Before the start of hostilities in December PNS Jessore was in Khulna with 4 other boats, PNS Rajshahi, Comilla and Balaghat was at Chittagong. PNS Sylhet was undergoing repairs at a dry-dock near Dhaka. The outbreak of hostilities on December 3 found most of the boats scattered around the province.[37]

Indian aircraft attacked the Rajshahi and Comilla near Chittagong on the 4 December, the Rajshahi was damaged and the Comilla sunk.[38] The Balaghat, which was not attacked, rescued the Comilla crew and the surviving ships returned to Chittagong. On December 5, Indian planes sank two patrol boats in Khulna. The PNS Sylhet was destroyed on December 6 and the Balaghat on December 9 by Indian aircraft. PNS Jessore, which had withdrawn from Khulna to Dacca, was destroyed on December 11 while escorting boats evacuating Pakistani troops from Chandpur. PNS Rajshahi was repaired, and under the command of Lt. Commander Shikder Hayat managed to evade the Indian blockade and reach Malaysia before the surrender on December 16. From there it sailed to Karachi and continued to serve in the Pakistan navy.

Blue on Blue: Tragedy near Khulna

Indian Army Eastern Command had ordered Bangladesh Navy gunboats BNS Palash and BNS Padma, accompanied by INS Panvel under the overall command of Commander M.N Samant, to sail to Chalna port. These ships, carrying Bengali seamen and Indian command crew, had been operating against Pakistani shipping since November, and under the advise of Indian Eastern Air command, had painted their superstructure yellow to avoid misidentification, which had been reported back to Eastern air-command.[39] This task force sailed on December 6, entered Mangla at 7:30 Am on December 10 and took over the port facility. Commander Samant knew that Khulna was a IAF target but decided to push on anyway. Around 11:30 AM, when the 3 ships were closing in on Khulna dockyard, 3 airplanes dived on them. Commander Samant recognized the IAF planes and ordered the ships to hold fire; all 3 ships were strafed and sunk by the planes. 3 Bengali Naval commandos and 7 Bengali sailors were killed, 6 naval commandos, 1 BSF JCO, 3 Indian officers and 7 Bengali seamen were injured. Indian Navy gave 14 awards (including 3 Mahavir Chakras, and 6 Vir Chakras) to the Indian rank and file involved in this incident. Bengali Seaman Ruhul Amin, who tried to save MV Palash despite being wounded and ordered to abandon ship, and later had died under torture, was awarded ‘Bir Shershtra’’ by Bangladesh government. 21 Indian and Bengali sailors became POWs.

The IAF was to continue flying interdiction missions for the remainder of the war in, shooting up ammunition dumps and other fixed installations. Gnats and Sukhoi Su-7s flew many missions in support of army units as they moved swiftly towards Dhaka, delivering ordnance such as iron bombs to take out enemy bunkers which occasionally posed an obstacle to advancing infantry. Canberras repeatedly struck Jessore forcing the enemy to abandon this strategic city. The IAF also was prepared to hit any Chinese incursions into Indian territory in the eastern Himalayas. As it turned out, the Chinese did not stir.


  1. ^ a b [1] IAF 1971 Losses
  2. ^ [2] PAF losses in 1971
  3. ^ [3] IAF claim of PAF Losses
  4. ^ [4] Pakistan Airforce in East Pakistan
  5. ^ [5] PAF "Tail-Choppers"
  6. ^ [6] PAF 1965
  7. ^ [7]
  8. ^ Islam, Rafiqul, A Tale of Millions, p315
  9. ^ a b c d [8]
  10. ^ Salik, Siddiq, “Witness to Surrender” p87, p90
  11. ^ Qureshi, Maj. Gen. Hakeem A., The 1971 Indo-Pak War: A Soldiers Narrative p55, p58
  12. ^ Ali Khan, Maj. Gen. Rao Farman, When Pakistan Got Divided, p88
  13. ^ Salik, Siddiq, “Witness to Surrender” p82
  14. ^ Islam, Rafiqul, ‘’A Tale of Millions’’, p122, p213
  15. ^ Salik, Siddiq, “Witness to Surrender” p132
  16. ^ Salik, Siddiq, “Witness to Surrender” p123
  17. ^ Salik, Siddiq, Witness to Surrender, p132
  18. ^ Jacob, Lt. Gen. JFR, Surrender at Dacca, pp188
  19. ^ Jacob, Lt. Gen. JFR, “Surrender At Dacca: Birth of A Nation” p51
  20. ^ a b [9]
  21. ^ a b Uddin, Major Nasir, Juddhey Juddhey Swadhinata, isbn 984-401-455-7, pp247
  22. ^ Salik, Siddiq, Witness to Surrender light aircraft- p134
  23. ^ Islam, Rafiqul, A Tale of Millions, p122, p213
  24. ^ The Encyclopedia of 20th Century Air Warfare Edited by Chris Bishop (amber publishing 1997, republished 2004 pages 384-387 ISBN 1-904687-26-1)
  25. ^ a b The Air War of '71 Revisited. Group Captain Sultan M. Hali (PAF). Journal of the Pakistan Institute of defence studies]. Retrieved: 13 August 06
  26. ^ a b c d "Indian Air Force losses in the 1971 War". www.bharat-rakshak.com. http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/History/1971War/Appendix2.html. Retrieved 2006-08-23. 
  27. ^ Salik, Siddiq, Witness To Surrender, p131
  28. ^ Salik, Siddiq, Witness to Surrender, p131
  29. ^ "India — Pakistan War, 1971; Introduction". Tom Cooper & Shais Ali. www.acig.org. http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_326.shtml. Retrieved 2006-08-23. 
  30. ^ Salik, Siddiq, Witness To Surrender, p132
  31. ^ [10] IAF Losses in the East
  32. ^ [11]
  33. ^ Salik, Siddiq, Witness To Surrender, p209
  34. ^ Salik, Siddiq, Witness To Surrender p175-p176
  35. ^ Salik, Siddiq, Witness to Surrender, p135
  36. ^ Salik, Siddiq, Witness To Surrender, p133
  37. ^ Salik, Siddiq, Witness To Surrender, p134
  38. ^ Salik, Siddiq, Witness To Surrender, p135
  39. ^ Jacob, Lt. Gen. JFR, Surrender at Dacca, p92


  • Salik, Siddiq (1997). Witness to Surrender. ISBN 9-840-51374-5. 
  • Jacob, Lt. Gen. JFR (2004). Surrender at Dacca: Birth of A Nation. The University Press Limited. ISBN 9-840-51532-2. 
  • Qureshi, Maj. Gen. Hakeem Arshad (2003). The Indo Pak War of 1971: A Soldiers Narrative. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-579778-7. 
  • Islam, Major Rafiqul (2006). A Tale of Millions. Ananna. ISBN 9-844-12033-0. 
  • Ali Khan, Maj. Gen Rao Farman (1992). How Pakistan Got Divided. Jung Publishers. 

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