|Battle of Garibpur|
|Part of Bangladesh Liberation War|
Bangladesh (Mukti Bahini)
India (Joined the war on 3 December 1971)
|Commanders and leaders|
|Lt. Col. R.K. Singh||Squadron Leader PQ Mehdi|
|Casualties and losses|
4 tanks destroyed
30 tanks destroyed
3 F-86 Sabres shot down
The Battle of Garibpur was fought between Pakistan and Mukti Bahini on 20–21 November 1971. The Indian Armed Forces joined the Mukti Bahini on 3 December 1971, creating the alliance named Mitro Bahini. The battle was a part of Bangladesh liberation war.
An intimately entangled part of this battle is the air battle over the Boyra Salient, the actual Battle of Boyra where the Mitro Bahini successfully engaged and destroyed strike elements of the Pakistan Air Force. The battle took place prior to the start of hostilities in the western front of India (known as Indo-Pakistani War of 1971). The Mitro Bahini defeated Pakistan Army in the battle thus capturing key areas and severely denting Pakistani morale.
After months of internal tensions in East Pakistan (current day Bangladesh) and a clampdown on Bengali nationalists, many independence fighters had organised themselves into a guerilla army. Called the Mukti Bahini, these rebels were aided by India in their struggle. After initial success over Pakistani troops there had been some relative calm in the region and further Indian assistance was sought to turn the tide. India thus started to involve itself deeper into the conflict brewing in the east and stationed its troops near the border.
The Boyra salient located inside the North West part of East Pakistan consisting of Garibpur village was at an important crossroads for both nations. Its control was thus vital as it included a highway to Jessore from India.
On 21 November, the 14 Punjab Battalion - supported by a squadron of 14 PT-76 tanks from 45 Cavalry moved in to capture the areas around Garibpur inside Pakistani territory. The move was supposed to be a surprise, but following a skirmish with patrol troops of both armies the previous day, Pakistan was alerted to this impending attack. Pakistan immediately responded in numbers when its 107 Infantry Brigade - supported by 3rd Independent Armoured Squadron, equipped with M24 Chaffee light tanks was launched. Possessing numerical superiority, Pakistan troops were in position to decimate the Indian intrusion. But the Punjab Battalion, known for its long history of valor, dug in and poised themselves for a counterattack. Retaining the Infantry and the Recoilless rifles in a defensive position, the tanks were sent forward to ambush the oncoming Pakistani charge. In the next couple of hours Indian troops pounded the Pakistani attack who couldn't pinpoint the source of attacks due to poor visibility on account of fog. Undeterred, Pakistan tanks and infantry were thrown into an offensive against Indian defensive positions. But once again these were repulsed by the Indians and resulted in heavy casualties for Pakistan. By noon more than 11 tanks lay smouldering with a further 3 captured in working condition whilst losing six of the PT-76 tanks. The 107 Brigade too had been severely battered with most of its original strength depleted while Indians reported casualties of 40.
But the final chapter of the battle was yet to be written. Pakistan Army had called for help from the Pakistan Air Force which soon responded with attacks on Indian positions. At around 3:00 p.m. three F-86 Sabres of the PAF flew in to provide close air support and hit the Indian positions using machine guns and rocket fire. The Indian Air Force however was prepared for such an attack and was thrust to neutralise the threat from the skies. Flying in their Gnats the four pilots were soon engaged in a dog fight against their Pakistani counterparts. In the first engagement of the two air powers in six years, all the three Sabres were downed in minutes. Two of the pilots ejected safely but were captured by the Mukti Bahini and taken to India as POWs.
The battle coming just weeks before the official start of the war had an unexpected turn of events. Even the allied forces comprising Mukti Bahini and the Indian Army had only dreamt of such a victory given the overwhelming odds they were up against in this battle. A single battalion had been able to destroy an entire brigade supported by an air force and artillery. This and victories in other battles nearby like Battle of Hilli ensured that the Northern sector of East Pakistan was virtually in the hands of Mitro Bahini (Allied forces) before the war was declared. The morale of the Pakistanis dipped and following the mass defections of Bengalis, it was only a matter of time before they would face ultimate defeat
Interestingly one of the captured PAF pilots, Parvez Mehdi Qureshi later on became the Chief of Air Staff of the Pakistan Air Force.
- Official War History of 1971, History Division, Ministry of Defence, Government of India, published at Bharat Rakshak.
- Report by the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, Pakistan
- India - Pakistan War, 1971; Introduction, by Tom Cooper, with Khan Syed Shaiz Ali, 23 October 2003, Air Combat Information Group (ACIG)
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