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.