As part of 50th Vijay Diwas Celebrations, commemorating the victory of Indian Armed Forces and Mukti Bahini over Pakistani Forces in 1971 War, a memorial service for those Killed in Action was held at Vijay Smarak at Fort William, Kolkata on 16 December 2021.
It’s a day of national pride and to celebrate the honour of Indian warriors for their selfless service and valour.This was a lifetime experience for those officers who fought the war and are proud carriers of many precious memories of that battle.
A few Kolkata-based officers of Indian Armed Forces,Col.Sheel Kumar Puri , VrC, Wing Commander Anandamoy Bagchi, Naval Officer Uttam Kumar Chakravarty and Brig. Prasanta Kumar Ghosh, VrC recollect those days, which are forever engraved in their memories.
Col Sheel Kumar Puri, VrC was commanding a company which was assigned the task of capturing an enemy position in the Western Sector. Undaunted by the small arms fire and shelling by the enemy, he led his company boldly and skillfully and inspired them to capture the objective after fierce hand-to-hand combat.
“I fought the war under western sector. The most memorable incident was the beginning of the war because on 3rd of December in the evening we all gathered in HQ and suddenly we heard an aircraft bombing on the ground and tremendous sound of shelling faraway and we were on the north bank of the river and the shelling was taking place on the opposite side.That place was Firozpur. That was the time we realised that the war had started. We were so much prepared,hats off General Sam Manekshaw when the war started, we were very happy, we shook hands with each other and getting ready for our task.”
“After the war we never knew that we will be alive to see the 50th anniversary .It’s really a great feeling ..I am proud to be a part of this. It’s a very very important day because it’s a tremendous amount of inspiration to the entire Indian Army and to the Nation”…Col Puri added.
An officer of the Indian Navy Uttam Kumar Chakravarty worked as a photographer during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war took PNS Gazi’s last photographs.”During the 1971 war, I was posted at the Eastern Naval Command HQ, in Naval Intelligence office under the Naval Intelligence Officer Lt. Cdr. Nirmal Kumar Mukherjee, as a leading photographer.”On 4th December at about 0300hrs.I was awakened by a Naval Policeman who informed me that he had been sent to carry me to a patrolling ship INS. Abhay urgently as per instructions from NIO. He also told me to carry a camera, a flash light, and sufficient films. The ship was ready to cast off from the jetty and as soon as I stepped on board, the ship set sail for the sea.
The Commanding Officer of the ship called me and briefed me about the operation search and rescue of PNS. Gazi which had been sunk by our ship INS Rajput. A team of Divers was also present there. The visibility was very poor due to fog. So, we were unable to trace any sign of a sunken submarine. After searching for about two hours, the day dawned and the visibility also improved a lot and after some time we could see some oil floating on the water surface near the entrance of the harbour. The divers were lowered into the sea for searching and after about an hour they could trace the sunken submarine, which was in three pieces. Then the second team of the divers was sent to retrieve some broken parts of the submarine, the divers also retrieved some documents like the submarine’s log book, route charts, etc. From the documents retrieved, it was confirmed that the sunken submarine was PNS Gazi.
Later on, 8 dead bodies were brought on board our ship. The body of the Captain of the submarine was also brought on board and a pocket diary was found in his shirt’s pocket,in which he wrote a message in the form of a poem to his mehbooba that he was going on a mission to India to destroy the Indian Navy’s Aircraft carrier INS Vikrant or else he would die in the war. I took photographs of all the items retrieved from the sunken submarine. We returned to the jetty in the evening. Thank God that we all returned safely where there was every possibility of an explosion of some of the mines they laid on the seabed or some of the torpedoes they had on board the submarine. On returning to the base, I was asked to develop the films immediately and make prints out of the negatives, and hand over those to the NIO.It was indeed a remarkable day in my life which I shall cherish forever.”
Wing Commander Anandamoy Bagchi was a young flying officer posted as Signal Officer at Pathankot airfield in Punjab, was getting ready to go to war. “We were fresh and brave. We would not think much about the consequences and just followed orders. That mentality, when we look back, is very satisfying and we are proud that we could give our best when required”, he said.”This is a great feeling and best part of it is that Indian Armed Forces remembered us even after a lapse of 50 years.That is really a very very satisfying act and the war we fought 50 years back still remain fresh in our memory as if it happened just the other day.” Bagchi was tasked to look after the repair of damaged transmitter on airfield and monitoring signal channel between Pakistan and Bangladesh.Every time there was a sortie attack by Pakistan, Bagchi said he and his colleagues would run to bunkers. At times, the attacks were so frequent that they did not even get the time to hide.
Narrating the initial moments of the war with Pakistan, he added, “When I got the call to head to the transmitter section, which was on one side of the airfield, I rushed there on my bike. Just when I was nearing the section, I saw two Mirage aircrafts over my head. The feeling at that time was that the planes were there to hit me and not the otherimportant targets. It was difficult for me to keep my balance intact. I came across a cyclist approaching from the opposite side, who junked his cycle and jumped on the bushes next to him. Looking at him, I got back my nerve and steadied myself. I reached the transmitter section and joined my technicians. They were overjoyed and got strength.”
“I immediately organized a fire brigade and instructed the technicians to repair the malfunctioning transmitters .Within a short span I brought things back to normal. As a section commander, I could instill confidence in my men and in return it gave me a lot of confidence.”
Brig .Prasanta Kumar Ghosh,VrC was assigned a very difficult task in the Eastern Theatre of creating road blocks, intercepting enemy convoys and inflicting casualties on the enemy. “I went into East Pakistan wearing a lungi and a half sleeve shirt with a cotton Shawl, took a Jhola (hand bag) also.My code name was Peter and I was supposed to become a freelance journalist who came there in search of good stories. I was assisted by a little boy who knew the local dialect and it was made clear to me that if I get caught, the army will disclaim any knowledge of my activity in East Pakistan,” said Brig.Ghosh.
Looking back after 50 years, these warriors feel “it seems unlikely that we will have another war of this type as most of the conflicts are along the borders and end that way only”.
Even after half a century Col S.Puri feels”Now a days Indian Army has improved a lot, technologically and modern warfare every way.As well as Army is concerned no matter how much you improve, how much acknowledgment you get… it’s never enough. There is still room for improvement. But as far as Indian Army is concerned, we are absolutely compatible with any Army in the world.”
The success in 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war, however, came at a price for India — nearly 3,900 Indian soldiers were killed and nearly 10,000 others injured, with many left to suffer from life-long disabilities.
In short, Bangladesh should never forget the contribution of the Indian Armed Forces in their Liberation war but for which they couldn’t have achieved their freedom.
(Pratyusha Mukherjee, a Broadcast Journalist of BBC based in Kolkata)