Hectic Days in Halwara-13: And the Winner Is…

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The mood on the station on the morning of 15th was indeed joyous.   The most important piece of news this morning was the resignation of the Governor of East Pakistan as a result of a very accurate air attack on the Government House in Dacca. The last symbol of legitimate governance of the Eastern Wing of Pakistan was gone.   The senior most military man, General AAK Niazi had assumed the control of the government there as the incumbent governor, Rao Farman Ali, had submitted his resignation.  What excited us the most was that this drama was precipitated by a very unique air operation carried out by the Indian Air Force during the day of 14th December 1971.     Initially the full details were not known to us at Halwara.   However, as the day progressed, colourfully embellished stories of the incident caused great excitement and merriment amongst all of us.    The story is now well-known and has been recorded by many in various documents, but I beg the indulgence of my readers to let me recount this unique story as we heard it on that winter morning.    I am deliberately leaving in the colourful embellishments as they reached us that morning.   Please do not hold me responsible for exaggerations or inaccuracies in the narration.

 After the first three days, the PAF had become non-existent on the Eastern Front.   Our aircraft were therefore all free to be employed in strike role.  The First Supersonics (Number 28 Squadron IAF) operating off Guwahati lead by Wing Commander Bhoop Bishnoi was being fully utilized for counter air and close air support operations. (Their very accurate bombing of the two airfields in Dacca was in fact primarily responsible for the neutralization the PAF there totally).   Yesterday morning there was an intelligence input through the Mukti Bahini that a high level meeting of the Pakistani Top Brass was due to be held at the circuit house Dacca before lunch.   A foursome of the First Supersonics led by the CO himself had just returned from a strike mission when it was decided to mount a strike on the circuit house to threaten the Pakistani Top Brass psychologically.    Bhoop and his foursome was turned around and tasked to take on this strike immediately.   The problem was that the circuit house was not marked on the million scale map being used by the pilots and a quarter million scale map of the intended target was not readily available then and there.   In lieu there of, a tourist guide map of Dacca City was procured and the strike was planned there-on.       

 Just as the strike was about to start-up, a message was sent to the leader:  Target changed from Circuit House to Government House.   It was too late to inform the rest of the formation of this change.   The formation took off and headed for Dacca.   Just before the formation reached its destination, Bhoop informed his boys of the change of target.   The new target was then identified and a rocket attack at the windows of the top floor was executed.

 The drama being enacted at the Government House was more tense if somewhat comic at the same time.   As a warning of an impending air attack was received, all the Top Brass descended to the basement bomb shelter.   As the first salvo of the rockets hit the conference room on top and the whole building shook, Rao Farman Ali the governor got hold of a piece of paper and wrote out his resignation.    Since there was no civilian authority senior to him available,  he gave that paper to General AAK Niazi who was the senior most army man present.   That is how history was enacted.

A nice story indeed and it made us all very happy and excited.   However, all this was happening a thousand miles away while we at Halwara were in the midst of another kind of battle.   Like the previous day, we were again off the leash totally.   All the available air effort was released for a ‘search and destroy’ mission.   On the 14th, we had had a field day.   Today, with a repeat of the same conditions, the boys were all ready to pounce once again.   The need for base air defence had decreased.   The wolf packs were all keen to switch their task from CAP to escort, hoping for a chance encounter with an enemy over their own sky.   We felt it prudent enough to let them enjoy themselves and escort the strike aircraft where-ever their rather restricted lo-lo radius of action permitted them to go on such a mission.    After all, the war was clearly drawing to an end and the poor guys had not had a kill to show for their toil!  

 Early in the morning Alan D’Costa and Ayre were sent off to sanitize the canal area leading to Lahore.   It seemed all was quiet on that front.   They had to be satisfied with a lone army truck found on the road.  Bipin Raje and Mathulla took on Montgomery Rail Yard and accounted for 25 to 30 bogies.   Dada Deshmukh and Balachand went north of Lahore and found a train at Kasur.   They accounted for one engine and four or five bogies. Patel and Ghosh visited Raiwind, found a train and inflicted similar damage as Dada.   TeeOh and Suzie Apte went to Radha Kishan / Changamanga and were in luck.   They found a long goods train and took out over 30 bogies.   The did such a through job that Pope Pais and Phillipose on a repeat sortie half an hour later in the same area just could not find a worth-while target.

 In the second wave, Lamba and Pinto destroyed two bridges near a canal junction.  Pope and Phillipose found a convoy of six vehicles full of soldiers.   All the vehicles were destroyed.   Y Rao and Rishi destroyed a railway bridge and a train.   Manek Madon and RRJ Dass visited Khudian and attacked the rail yard.  Mitroo and BS Rao went to Montgomery, Banerjee and Chakladar went to Changamanga, Patel and Williams went to Paltoki,  Bipin Raje and Mathulla destroyed a train at Pakpattan, and finally Alan D’Costa and Ayre found another train on the HiraSingh- Khudian stretch.   The day’s activities were rounded up by the Green Berets mounting two raids over Pattaki and HiraSingh.   One of the youngsters described the days activity as live range practice on real targets.

 By the evening there was news of an offer of a conditional cease-fire being asked for by Pakistan and being rejected by India.    It was quite clear that the war was drawing to an end.   The final surrender in the east on the morning of the 16th was seen so much as the expected and the inevitable result that it came more as the end of a well run exercise than the end of a bloody war.    The cease-fire in the west was timed for the night of 17th.   We did fly a few operational sorties on the 16th and the 17th, but the emphasis was on Photo Recce to assess the damage done.   Some stragglers amongst the enemy tanks were also taken care of.    A few air movements on the Pakistani side were seen by our air defence radars, but none of them showed any inclination to engage in a battle.

 The war – expected for a year and fought out in two weeks – was finally over.   There was no prize on offer to decide who had won.   Pakistan had lost more than half of the population to a new country: Bangla Desh.   India held 90000 Pakistani Prisoners Of War.   India was also in control of a large chunk of territory in Sindh on the western border.    We who fought the war were satisfied.

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27 responses »

  1. I find the account well-detailed but can all the events be substantiated by some acceptable evidence? Since there were no satellite imaging those days, how about photographs taken from cameras mounted on aircraft? I hope those are not classified any longer.
    Sadly, I am yet to read the earlier posts and perhaps should abstain from reacting until I have read them all.
    Having known you personally for nearly half a century I know you wouldn’t deliberately distort the truth, but experience teaches us that it’s always the victor’s version that graduates as authentic history. Even that is without prejudice to one’s scepticism about the “necessity of war” or the general principle of trying to root out violence with greater violence.
    I hope you’ll appreciate that this is not impudence but an honest reflection of all the futile efforts the world had been witnessing for aeons.

  2. come on pallav,

    what evidence?? what r u talkin about. What evidence do u want that Bhoop went and rocketed the pakis?? that mr x blasted a train at location Y ?

    we are not fightin a court case… its a description of how a individual saw/experienced the events. this is not official history by any stretch of imagination. the description is honest and credible.. enough for us.

  3. i would have been more happy if there were pics of people mentioned in these writeups.. just helps to connect better with the story. and puts a face to names !!

  4. With due respect, the following are my observations of manoj’s rebuttal:

    1. Expecting evidence outside of courtrooms is absurd.
    2. Photographic evidence to corroborate (such) narrative/s is unheard of…..
    3, …..unless it is “official history” – something that I have always been apprehensive of.
    4. I failed to discover, in my comment, any doubt expressed about the author’s honesty or credibility. If anything, I’d stated just the opposite.
    5. It is unclear who exactly are included in or excluded from manoj’s team of “us”; or why.
    6. An intolerance for questions – even though he may not consider those reasonable or sensible.
    And last but not the least
    7. Grammar schools are an absolute and urgent necessity. I foresee no dearth of students who’d deserve seats there.

    • Bravo.
      I am well aware of the angst that was caused by the Indian Air Force’s reluctance to allow jounalists access to the reality of the IAF. Although almost 40 years have passed since the War of 1971; the need to verify is no less important for two reasons: To celebrate the professionalism of all those who served (and continue to do so) and not to fall victim to the gross exagerrations that are available in any PAF telling of the same. I commend the author for telling his story but equally commend Pallav for encouraging verification. I know I saw gun camera shots and assume these may still be available (everything is documented and saved in India!).

      • Thanks Mark – for your objective and balanced views.
        Perhaps some people do not realise that asking questions is not quite the same as casting doubt on the author’s (or anyone else’s) integrity. Seeking information is every citizen’s right. More so, on a momentous event as the ’71 war and the consequent birth of a new nation. An RTI act should not be a pre-requisite for making such queries.
        What Manoj (and many other readers of this blog) obviously doesn’t know is that Mr. Sen is my father’s childhood friend and himself a father-figure and a role model for many of us. In almost half a century, I have not known him to consciously make a misstatement. However, I prefer not to mix up our roles as family friends and one that exists between an author and a reader. Shutting out the reader’s voice, in my view, is an unhealthy practice.
        I suppose Mr. Sen’s silence about these comments is more eloquent. As far as I know him, he’s probably amused as well.
        Like you, I too have seen gun-camera and other shots taken by the various wings of our defence forces. I find no reason to believe those photographs have vanished. It is somewhat disappointing that even after four decades those have not been released in the public domain. My point was attaching those shots would not only make the narrative more authentic, but also more interesting for the readers to actually see what and how things happened.
        Finally, a last word. People never fight wars. Governments do. And to my knowledge and belief, there has been no war in human history where the full truth was published. This applies equally to the Mahabharata, the WWI, WWII to those now being fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, West Bank or Georgia.

      • Dear Pallav and Mark
        Your comments deserve a response; so, here is mine.
        The blog we are in is named TKSTales, TKS in this case is my self. ‘Tales’ indicate the nature of the writing. I am narrating stories of my life to the best of my ability in a manner that I hope would sustain the interest of the reader till my story ends. The aim is not only to narrate an incident but to transfer the ambience of the place and time where and when the tale is situated. Tales, by design are narratives seen from the narrator’s point of view. The incidents of my tales are all real. That is why, real people (be it Nimai Bhattacharya or Chandu Gole) with their real names and identities walk in and out of my posts. In choosing to be factual I automatically take on the responsibility to be truthful in narration from my perspective. It is quite possible that an incident that I write about is seen by some one else in a different light. However, since all the incidents used in the tale have me in it either as a participant or as an observer, I have to be accountable for its veracity to remain intellectually honest. I try to perform within these boundaries.

        Now we need to discuss the matter of perspective, its veracity and the proof of its veracity in its narration. I shall do it by quoting from my own post ‘Hectic Days in Halwara-4: The Enemy Shows Up’
        I wrote:
        “By 23:42 the hostile aircraft entered my defended zone. They obviously had not spotted the airfield. Soon they realized that they had missed the airfield. They turned around and went back to Ludhiana. All this drama was being picked up by all my sensors deployed.”

        The first sentence is a statement. If I need to prove that the statement is true, I need to either get a copy of the action diary from the Air Defence Control Centre for that day or at least take the operational war diary of Halwara and append it as a foot note. As a matter of fact, I did refer to the war diary to write my post. I would not have been able to give the exact time of the action other wise. But do I need to present each and every input I use to write my posts to convince the reader? If my reader has no faith in the substance of the narration why would she read my piece? The same argument holds for the fourth sentence quoted.
        The second and the third sentence are assumptions on my part. That assumption stems from my years of experience as a combat pilot flying under similar circumstances. Am I not entitled to present such views without worrying whether my reader would think that I am shooting crap?

        Let me quote another little bit from the same post. I wrote:

        “All this was happening perhaps because they were flying really and I mean really low. They continued circumnavigating the airfield and at one stage turned quite hard to align themselves with Runway 13. The first aircraft came overhead at about 20 degrees to the runway and dropped his bombs. He was so low that his bombs did not explode.”

        How would the reader know that I am telling the truth? Have I given him a photo copy of the SA-2 Missile Track record so that he can verify for himself? How about the Pakistani pilot of the attacking aircraft challenging this statement? ‘Total Bullshit’ he may easily say. I came directly over head Halwara and dropped my bombs in a copy book manner. ‘It is my bad luck that my bombs supplied by USA turned out to be duds. The IAF is so inefficient that all their missile and antiaircraft guns could not touch me even though I bravely flew through their kill zones.’ Some one like Fricker might then write a book about false Indian stories about the brave Pakistan Air Force and some one like you might turn around and ask me for proof of my story. Can I then produce a readable post about an event forty years ago?

        Now I come to my post ‘Hectic Days in Halwara-13: And the Winner Is …’ that caused your comments. The post contains two sets of data, one about action off Halwara and another about a reported action over Dacca. For the first set, the details have been taken from the war diary. The claims as made by the pilots are scrutinized against their films. Unless the films corroborate the claims, the claims are not accepted and included in the war diary. For interdiction, when a target is missed by the bombs, it is recorded that the mission was not successful. In an interdiction sortie, whether a railway bogie is damaged or destroyed beyond repair is hard to discern in a half or three quarter second gun camera shot. The results recorded are therefore best estimates. For the action over Dacca, it is a reconstructed tale -‘hear-say’ evidence. However, the incident is well documented by multiple sources. For those who would want proof of the story he is welcome to search the public domain reports.
        • A short notice strike on the government house Dacca led by Wing Commander Bishnoi did take place
        • Rocket damage to the conference room was published by news papers
        • No deaths or injury were reported
        • The governor of East Pakistan did resign during the pendency of the strike. Eye witness report from a foreign correspondent exists
        • Transfer of power in East Pakistan to General Niazi on 14th December is on public record
        • Surrender of Pakistani forces on the 16th December is well recorded
        • Holding of 90000 prisoners by India is on public record.
        Pallav’s comment ‘Even that is without prejudice to one’s scepticism about the “necessity of war” or the general principle of trying to root out violence with greater violence’ amuses me. In 1971 Pallav was 17 years old. He should be able to recollect the ten million refugees imposing intolerable social and financial burden on India that led to the war. He should also be able to remember the denial of democracy in Pakistan by non implementation of the results of the general election that led to a civil war there that in turn led to the refugee influx on to India. It is good to be a little sceptic. But one should always try to avoid states of selective memory loss.

        As far as Mark’s comments are concerned, I feel that the Indian Services are well aware of the necessity of self correction and vigil. When ever a black-sheep operating against Service ethics is detected, internal corrective action invariably takes place. Those of us in uniform do take the responsibility of our omissions and commissions. I wonder though whether the same yardstick is applied to our politician, bureaucrats and affluent middle class armchair critics.

  5. Dear Pallav, you are really taking it all very seriously… what i wrote was with no malice .. your point abt grammar school is well taken :-)) this sms culture has indeed affected general english.. there is no intolerance to any question.. only that seeking evidence in this kind of article is really going over the top and not relevant really… how does it matter if there were 5 trucks that were bombed or 6 .. does it really matter now if they were full of troops or full of ammunition…. when i say ‘us’ i mean the general audience, the average joe… we are not reading this blog to establish /corroborate facts but just to get read someones expriences abt 40 years ago… sorry no offence meant.

    I would have liked infact to know what are the pilots mentioned in this article doing now etc.. who is where.. what happened to them.. etc..

    Best Regards

  6. Dear Sir,

    I am late Gp.Capt. B.S. Raje son. I have been following your blog of the ’71 war for sometime and it was a really interesting read. Especially ofcourse were details of missions in which Dad took part. I had heard from dad about targets attacked during the war, but the details mentioned by you were great. The day by day details were like the war unfolding in front of us.

    Best regards

    Rakesh Raje

  7. well my 2 cents.. in my opinion this article is quite a tribute to all who participated in the events of 1971. Ideally the govt of india should release all gun camera footage, pics etc as part of the official war history of 1971. I dont know how are you expecting Mr Tk Sen to lay his hands on such a collection unless it is released by GOI?

    Pl tell me how much of this footage is available in public domain? You guys also read lot of defence magazines etc with accounts of various air actions etc.. how many of these articles are accompnied by such ‘evidence? and this is just a blog…

    I will be more than happy to see this footage as well but the absence of it in no way diminishes the account or its credibility. This is just a persons account of events as he saw.

  8. Dear All (but esp. Pallav, Manoj and Mark),
    Pardon me for intruding; but i have been following the conversation. We can view this blog in many ways:- for me it is a ‘personal recollection’ rather than an ‘official history’, but that does not make it any less important or less credible. IMO, Pallav did raise a very important point regarding verifiability/traceability of information, but IMHO, it is not the primary issue here, solely because it is not an ‘official history’.
    In my personal context, since i was old enough then (having just transitioned from high school to college) to understand (at least some of) the events being described. i distinctly remember listening to radio broadcasts (nearly 24×7) on AIR, Radio Pakistan, BBC, VOA among other stations on an ancient valve driven radio, apart from printed news to soak up all the information that i could find. And since i was then a NCC cadet meant that i was (proudly) wearing some uniform! Though it was only for some minor ARP tasks. But i followed the war assidously and even had a map of E.Pakistan/ Bangladesh above my table with little flags, markers etc. Now these chronicles dovetail in to my recollections of that time and while i was ‘so peripherial’ i cannot find any thing to dispute.
    i also remember on a study tour with a ‘Defence Study Group’ with other students of Pune university to the Naval Dockyard in Bombay in Oct. 71 and noticing warships getting a coat of ‘Admiralty Grey’ (the Russian warships like the Petyas had just come in a much lighter colour). Something was in the air! Even INS Trata; the main coastal defence of Bombay had camouflage nets strung up over the gun emplacements. And i remember (overhearing) that the nascent Institute of Defence Management, Trimulghery was doing studies for a large logistical operation.
    But returning to the matter at hand; on a Governmental level, GOI has paid very little attention to releasing/disseminating information about that eventful period. And all of us would be much better informed, but for this great obsession with the OSA and another archaic regulation called ‘Defence of India Rules’ which probably dates back to WW2!
    If i’m not mistaken that is what Pallav is speaking about; the need to have official information declassified and made available as objectively as possible.
    Otherwise; as somebody (was it De Gaulle?) said, “History should not be written with anything but a pencil”.
    BTW, i read the recollections of Air Cdre. (R) Kaiser Tufail of the PAF on another blog and that gave me a glimpse in to ‘the other side’. Since i essentially read it as personal recollection, i made no attempt to juxtapose it with any accounts from ‘this side’. If i was studying military history, i would have certainly done so.
    Please excuse my 2 bits.

  9. Dea Air Cmdre. Sen,
    Thank you sir. I hope you know I was not questioning the honesty of anything you have written, I would not do so.
    I understand the difference between your ‘blog’, your ‘tales’, and the use of primary documents to write an accounting. The informality of your chosen avenue is of your choosing and this I respect.
    My regret is that there has been so little ‘official’ recounting of what took place in 1965 and 1971. Perhaps my sentiments about ‘documentation’ were misplaced?
    I hope you understand.

  10. so pallav get down from your high horse..share with all of us the good quality ‘weed’ that u have been smoking of late…

    its wars that have led to peace.. Europe being prime example.. and whats wrong if history is written by the victors ( the losers are anyway all dead or in the cooler) .. how can they write?

  11. come on pradeep, this is a open forum, u r not intruding. here the rule is ask for no quarter give no quarter…. go with all guns blazing ( i mean with empties only ..nothing personal)

    sorry Pradeep… .. Pallav is not asking for official info to be declassified.. he is saying that the article/blog author should provide evidence to back up his writings. and it is TKSens responsibility to authenticate events described in the blog. Hope u get the difference..

    • Appreciate your points, Manoj.
      And as you say, Pallav may have been making the point that you speak about. However in a ‘personal recollection’ of this nature (defence related) there are unfortunately not many tools available to a chronicler to support the information detailed. E.G. official records etc. Hence my reference to OSA and similar regulations. If more Official Source information was available, it would easier to verify personal recollections (if verification is desired). That is all. i don’t see any body on this thread questioning veracity of facts, per se. Pallav (IMO) only raised some larger issues. But moving on, i guess all of us are enjoying reading all that is being written about.
      BTW, i do consider History to be a huge mosaic, of which ‘anecdotal history’ is no insignificant part.
      Now i’m waiting for the next part! Cheers to all.

  12. pradeep,
    quite agree.. these are only memoirs and i dont think there is a next part .. the 1971 war has ended in Halwara 13 !! though there will be other stories…

  13. As a late comer to this discussion – and to Pallav’s ‘request’ for evidence I would like to present the following.

    The initial story as narrated by Tikkoo sir is indeed correct – if anything it understates the effort put by the IAF on that day.

    In specific – addressing pallav’s points

    ” but can all the events be substantiated by some acceptable evidence?

    By acceptable – there are accounts by a Journalist who was present inside the Governor’s House – More importantly, there is a colourful account by a UN official who was there as well – neither leave a doubt that the IAF attack was a blow on the morale of the civilian officials. But why stop at that. take a look for yourself http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPvi50785dU

    Since there were no satellite imaging those days, how about photographs taken from cameras mounted on aircraft? I hope those are not classified any longer.

    The war ended two days later – three days after the attack, some of the pilots who carried the attack were actually at the scene of destruction, taking photographs, anaysing the damage and rescuing souvenirs. There are many unclassified published photographs of the governor house showing rocket damage and fire damage.

    Having known you personally for nearly half a century I know you wouldn’t deliberately distort the truth, but experience teaches us that it’s always the victor’s version that graduates as authentic history. Even that is without prejudice to one’s scepticism about the “necessity of war” or the general principle of trying to root out violence with greater violence.

    The losing side’s version of the attack doesnt differ much either.

    In short, what Tikkoo sir had written is not far from the truth. if any, it understates the havoc played on the ground. The only correction to the whole account was the name of the Governor – he was A M Malek and not Farman Ali.

  14. jagan, quite agree. Anyway pallav has been shot down.. a confirmed kill .. we did not see any parachute open.. so forget it. TK can u provide evidence that u lived in 55 subroto park ( subroto park .. ahaaa.. of which i have very fond memories.. walkin to air force central school….)

    i was reading K Tufails account and i think he placed the suspicious looking PAF up and down caps somwhere around 15th dec..( was it a typo) while TkSens account puts it around 10-11th dec..

    • Manoj: No. There never was a need to shoot and kill Pallav or any one else on this forum. None of you have appeared as an ‘enemy’. What needs change is merely a point of view. A man is not worth his self if he does not have a point of view. Let all views stand on their own merit.

  15. TK.. this is just some banter. nothing personal.. nothing really. all of us here wish the best for India and each other. As it is said, i may not agree with u , but i will defend ur right to say what u want.. ( i hope i got the words/sentence right :-)))

  16. One neive question. If rail tracks and goods trains are busted, how come more trains reappear ( trains were busted in Kasur more than once). I thought track becomes non operational.

    • Dear Prashant: It is rather difficult to stop the flow of traffic completely by interdiction. Normally, an interruption of a few hours is achieved and even that success is not guaranteed. However, any disruption on the flow of war material has an impact on the outcome of a battle. Therefore, interdiction continues to be a valid form of operations.

  17. Air Cde Sen Sir,

    Your response to both readers i.e. Mark and Pallav was the most appropriate. I am very impressed by your recollections of the war and otherwise.

    In my $.02, you are not writing history; you are only writing your accounts as you saw.

    Please keep it up and coming.

    PS: When I was in High School(Central School near Signals Encl) I had the honor of seeing you. I was invited to a dinner at AFS mess by some friends.

  18. Your narration are not tales, and do not have to verified by any one. My dad was also in the Air Force from 1947 to 1977. We have seen the 1965 war live as now people see on TV with all the Anti Aircraft Guns firing during the Pak Canberra Raid, when the Church in Ambala was Bombed, and also the squash court at the club. Which we missed as there was a Idli walla the only one I knew of in my kiddy days whose shop was also destroyed. They were a few more places but it would be wise not to put it writing as it is still a Gov Secret.It all I recollect as I was only 8 yrs old then.

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