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Heroes Welcome at Dhaka

I was on the left of the road to Dacca with the Infantry while my guns were some 250 metres to the right of the road under a Junior Commissioned Officer. There was a small grove which separated the guns from the Lakhya river by about 250-300 metres and had our Infantry was deployed in between.

I took temporary leave of my Infantry boss and walked across to assist in deploying the guns. It must have been 6 PM or shortly thereafter when to our surprise we came under attack from the Pak Army. The Infantry elements between my guns and the river had decided to readjust leaving a gap unknowingly which the Pak Army had now decided to exploit.

I immediately reacted and took control and organised a fight back. I had just 25 men with me who were involved in not only the fight back as well as the deployment of the guns. I also had 3 light machineguns which I decided to use to good effect but in a controlled manner.

The Pakis launched two more attacks to overrun us, but we managed to beat them back each time. Our battle ended shortly before 10 PM when the remnants of the Pak Army withdrew across the Lakhya leaving behind about 20 dead and another 10 wounded. That was to be my last face to face encounter of the war with the enemy.  

At this stage on 13th Dec some nearly 200 guns had been lined up from North of Dacca to its South on the East side of the city and we opened up a massive barrage at 10 PM. The Battle for Dacca had begun. We fired 5 rounds every 15 minutes from each gun till 6 AM the next morning. The lighter guns fired quicker while the heavier ones fired slowly. Consequently, it became a virtual non-stop barrage on Pak positions through the night. It was truly an awesome sight as the sky remained lit all through, the cacophony deafening even as the earth shook beneath us.

We stopped firing at 6 AM sharp, just as the first IAF aircraft swooped down to deliver their bomb loads.  They kept up their non-stop attacks every 30 mins all through the day till 6 PM. The moment they left, the Artillery opened up and continued through the night. This continued over the next two days viz 14 and 15 Dec – IAF assaults by day and Artillery assaults by night.

On 15 Dec evening sometime around 8.30 or 9 PM we received a very interesting message from higher HQs – “Surrender Talks in Progress; Ceasefire likely at 09.30 AM on 16 Dec. Plan accordingly!” I knew that theend of the war was near but wondered what was I a mere subaltern was supposed to do about the part of the message that said “Plan Accordingly”. We all worked overtime to pump in as many shells as we could thereafter for the rest of the night. 

We however did not stop at 06.00 AM as we usually did and continued firing till we got a new message at 09.00 AM on 16 Dec– “Ceasefire at 09.30 AM. No firing repeat no firing, without personal permission of the Army Cdr. RV (rendezvous) at Demra Ferry at 10 AM to enter Dacca. Bring one Gun along with detachment”. I shared the news with my men who all cheered. At sharp 09.30 AM the guns fell silent and we knew now that the war was finally coming to an end.

We then got ready for the Victory parade into Dacca at 1 PM that afternoon. We entered Dacca, led by our Infantry, PT-76 tanks, and our artillery. I rode atop a flat-bed tractor trolley which was the most unmilitary like vehicle in the parade. We were accompanied by the entire Press Corps of the world with quite a few riding atop my humble trolley. They had joined us on 15 Dec in anticipation of the biggest scoop of their lives.

We entered Dacca’s Race Course shortly before 3 PM (a distance of 6 km took us 2 hours). While the Infantry paraded past the Commander of the Joint Forces of India and Bangladesh, Lt Gen JS Aurora; we formed a semi-circle on to one side as we waited for the surrender ceremony to unfold. We could see Col. Osmani the Commander-in-Chief of Bangladesh Army seated to one side. 

The entry into Dacca was tumultuous as people openly wept, mobbed, hugged and kissed us alike, shouting Joy Bangla and waved the new nation’s Green & Gold Flag. Garlands were thrown at us and we threw them back to the crowds which brought additional shouts of Joy Bangla. There was nothing but a human sea as far as an eye could see. It looked as if the whole of East Pakistan had converged on to Dacca. No World War 2 movie could come close to what I was witnessing live. It was Deliverance for the people of the new nation – Bangladesh. 

As the surrender ceremony progressed, we witnessed history in the making when Lt Gen AAK Niyazi handed over his pistol to our Lt Gen JS Aurora. I got busy signing autographs all around. The ceremony was over soon and we then moved to take stations outside the famous Dacca Intercontinental Hotel which was a NO WAR ZONE and had become Home for the world’s Diplomatic Corps. 

Later that evening as I sat alongside our PT-76 tanks enjoying the heat from their engine, I reflected on the last 14 days, I had been in War. I had walked nearly a 100 kms on foot, fired hundreds of shells, had killed many and nearly got killed many a times; had experienced Pak bullets, tank and Artillery shells, Sabre attacks and even anti-aircraft fire; had flown across a mighty river and was finally in Dacca, a city I had dreamt of being in the first week of February 1971. I wonder if anyone could ask for more. I was however worried for my Brother and Uncle and prayed silently for their safety. I also prayed silently for those of my men and friends who had made the supreme sacrifice. 

I had seen history being made in front of my eyes and was overjoyed that I had been part of its script. I am truly at a loss of words to pen down all that I experienced in those 14 days. But yes, I played my own small part in what is now HISTORY and a truly well deserved VICTORY, one of the greatest of all times.

Joi Bangla; Jai Hind!!!

Col. Pradeep Saxena is a decorated Indian veteran of the 1971 war.

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