Book Review | Deeds of Gallantry: Fifty Years of the 1971 Victory

Updated: November 15, 2021 8:59 PM

The chapters on ‘Meghna Heli-Lift’, ‘Battle of Tangail’, and ‘Force Alpha’ give an indication of the synergy between the various Services towards achieving victory in the war.

Book reviewEach chapter begins with the gallantry award citation for that battle/operation which serves as an introduction to the events that follow.

By Neha Kohli

The month of December 2021 marks 50 years since the India-Pakistan War of 1971, which led to the creation of the nation of Bangladesh. The war was one of the most important geopolitical events of the twentieth century, one that changed forever the regional political geography of South Asia. It was also the finest moment for the Indian Armed Forces, which achieved a decisive victory in the two-week war. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the war, the Ministry of Defence’s History Division has published a new volume Deeds of Gallantry: Fifty Years of the 1971 Victory, edited by Amlesh Kumar Mishra. The book has been published in collaboration with the National Book Trust of India.

The war was fought simultaneously on the western and eastern fronts, and involved the Indian Army (IA), Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy (IN) on both fronts. The book features twenty chapters highlighting some of the most important battles that took place during the war and the brave men who led the charge: these include the battles of Garibpur, Hilli, Punch, Gangasagar, Chhamb, Darsana, Longewala, Dera Baba Nanak, Islamgarh, Gadra Road, Tangail, Basantar and Bogra. It also features chapters on the IAF’s Meghna Heli Lift, the air battle of Srinagar, and the raid on the Government House in Dhaka. The IN’s contribution is addressed in the chapters on INS Vikrant, Operation Trident, Operation Falcon and Force ‘Alpha’: Operations in the East.

Each chapter begins with the gallantry award citation for that battle/operation which serves as an introduction to the events that follow. In the chapter on the ‘Battle of Basantar’,we find the citation for Second Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal and Major Hoshiar Singh who were awarded the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), the highest gallantry award given for acts of valour during times of war. Lt Khetrapal was awarded the PVC posthumously for his bravery and sacrifice in destroying four enemy tanks at the Shakargarh Bulge. Major Hoshiar Singh set an example of bravery by beating waves of enemy attacks on his company at Jarpal in Pakistan.

In the ‘Battle of Longewala,’ known to general readers via the movie ‘Border’, a single company of the 23 Punjab Regiment valiantly stalled the advance of Pakistani brigade and armour until dawn when the fighter pilots of the IAF destroyed dozens of Pakistani tanks, breaking their will to fight on. On the eastern front, we have the Battle of Gangasagar and the courage of Lance Naik Albert Ekka of the Brigade of Guards, who was awarded the PVC posthumously for his courageous actions in the battle. His is the only PVC awarded on the eastern front during the war. The chapters on the battles of Punch and Chhamb on the western front show how these were highly contested battles in which both Indian and Pakistani troops fought fiercely inch by inch to gain rival territories while inflicting heavy casualties on the other side; yet, the result was not as decisive as hoped for. Another key battle featured in the book is that of Tangail, which is known for the air drop of an entire battalion for the purpose of capturing a strategic bridge at Poongli.

The IN’s bombing of Karachi harbour on the night of 4/5 December 1971 is detailed in the chapter on Operation Trident. On the eastern side, INS Vikrant, the aircraft carrier, established a complete blockade off the coast of East Pakistan. Its successes as also the sinking of the submarine PNS Ghazi have been the focus of the chapter titled ‘INS Vikrant: The Sea warrior’. The story of INS Khukri is narrated in the chapter on ‘Operation Falcon’.

Despite the fact that the war formally commenced on 3 December 1971, with Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) pre-emptive strikes on IAF airfields, the IAF went on to achieve complete air superiority in East Pakistan and maintained dominance in West Pakistan. The chapter on ‘Air Battle of Srinagar’ highlights the bravery of Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon of 18 Squadron who took on six Pakistani Sabres in a dog fight over the sky of Srinagar. Sekhon was awarded the PVC posthumously and was the only IAF officer to receive the award in the war. The chapter ‘The Last Straw: Air Raid on Government House, Dhaka’ tells the reader of an ingenious IAF operation that bombed the Circuit House in Dhaka and used a tourist map to locate the target!

The 1971 war was a success because of the synergy between the three Services that worked in tandem towards achieving a common goal. The chapters on ‘Meghna Heli-Lift’, ‘Battle of Tangail’, and ‘Force Alpha’ give an indication of this synergy.

Deeds of Gallantry brings to life the various battles of the 1971 war and tells the reader the stories of the gallantry awardees who participated in it. It also features photographs of those who took part in the action. It also has 14 original images from the war as a set of inserted images. The book would interest the young, lay reader who is keen to know more about the course and events of the war and the bravery of those who took part in it.

(The book reviewer is Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Military History and Conflict Studies, USI of India, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.)

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