Thursday, April 7, 2011

Operation Searchlight In Chittagong

Operation Searchlight was a darkness military operation in Bangladesh’s history. It was carried out by the Pakistan Army to curb the Bengali nationalist movement in the erstwhile East Pakistan in March 1971. It is known as “The Dark Night of Bangladesh”. This operation ordered by the central government of West Pakistan. The original plan envisioned taking control of the major cities on March 26, and then eliminating all opposition, political or military, within one month. Prolonged Bengali resistance was not anticipated by the Pakistani planners. These
systematic killings enraged the Bengalis, who declared independence from Pakistan (March 26), to achieve the new state of Bangladesh with Indo-Soviet backing.

The violence resulting from Operation Searchlight led to the war of liberation by the Mukti Bahini against Pakistani Army and Pakistani Rajakar forces in Bangladesh. Following the ill fated Operation Chengiz Khan, Indian intervention resulted in the Pakistani Army's unconditional surrender to the joint command of the Indian Army and Mukti Bahini on December 16, 1971.

The planned and designated centers of offensive operations under that plan were Dhaka, Khulna, Chittagong, Comilla, Jessore, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Saidpur and Sylhet areas, where West Pakistani army units were concentrated. Some details of Operation Searchlight in Chittagong (March 25) are given below:


Pakistani squads in Chittagong had the following objectives:

1.    Liaise with Pakistani Navy.
2.    Disarm EBRC units, 8 EBR, EPR and police units.
3.    Seize police armory, radio station and telephone exchange.
4.    Arrest Lt. Col. MR Chowdhury and Awami League leaders.

The Chittagong garrison was to be reinforced by the bulk of 53rd Brigade squads from Comilla on March 26.

Chittagong housed the only oil refinery in East Pakistan and it had a large fuel depot. It was the largest seaport and MV Swat with 9000 tons of arms and ammunition was in port. Bengali people and squads substantially outnumbered the West Pakistani Chittagong garrison and it was a cause of concern for Pakistani planners. Bengali officers of EPR and EBR had discussed a preemptive strike on Pakistani forces, but the senior Bengali officers (Lt. Col M.R. Chowdhury -Chief Instructor, EBRC) and Major Ziaur Rahman (2IC, 8 EBR), dissuaded Captain Rafiq (Sector Adjutant, EPR) from rebelling in the belief that the Pakistani army would not take action against civilians, but confirmed that they will revolt in case of any Pakistani attack. Attempts to unload arms and ammunition from MV Swat were a partial failure during March 20-25th, as civilian protestors blocked any attempt to take the arms to the cantonment and many were shot by the army. Brig. Mazumdar was relieved of his post because of this failure.

The Chittagong port facilities are positioned between the airport and the naval base because the Chittagong cantonment is located to the north of the city, while the naval base was near the airport on the south end of the city. Commanded by Lt. Col. Fatami (Pakistani), The 20th Baluch regiment minus its advance party and it was the only army unit present in the cantonment besides a company from the 31st Punjab and elements from the 3rd Commando battalion. These were supported by a section of 6 “M24 Chaffee” tanks from the 29 Cavalry. The Pakistani Navy (under the Commander of Mumtaz) had 300 troops and the PAF had an unknown number of personnel at the naval base and at the airport respectively. There are also some Pakistani commandos were operating in civilian clothing in the city. But EPR had about 300 Pakistani troops in Chittagong. EPR headquarter. PNS Jahangir (a destroyer) and the gunboat PNS Rajshahi and PNS Balaghat were also present in Chittagong. Brig. Ansari took command of the port area, while Lt. Col Fatami looked after the cantonment.

Commanded by Lt. Col. Shaigri (Pakistani), the East Bengal Regimental Center located in the cantonment housed 2,000 Bengali troops, including the newly raised 9th EBR and commanded by Lt. Col. Rashid Janjua (Pakistani), the 8th EBR was at least 50% strength and stationed outside the cantonment. EPR Sector number 6 was headquarter in Chittagong (Commanded by Lt. Col. Abdul Aziz Sheikh - W. Pakistani) contained the 11th (5 companies, Commanded by Major Md. Iqbal, W. Pakistani), 14th (4 companies, Commanded by Major Shamsuddin Ahmed, Bengali) and the 17th wings(4 companies, Commanded by Major Peer Mohammad, W. Pakistani). The whole sector headquarter was at “Halishahar” south of the cantonment, where a company from each wing in addition to HQ company, nearly 600 Bengali and 300 Pakistani troops were billeted. 11th Wing had a company each at Cox's Bazar, Teknaf, Barkal and Maislong areas. 17th wing had 2 companies at Kaptai and 1 at Rangamati. Other 14th Wing companies were spread out at Ramgarh, Taindong and Sajek, to the north and east of Chittagong. A company of Bengali troops were spread out to unload munitions from the MV Swat at the port, while an EPR platoon guarded the airport.

On March 25 the port facility was secured by a Pakistani infantry company at 9:00 P.M. and all communication networks were partially shutdown. Captain Rafiq was informed of squad movements in Dhaka by Chittagong Awami League leader Dr. Zafar, near about 8:30 P.M. He immediately went to the EPR HQ and successfully took control of the facility by 10:30 P.M, imprisoning about 300 Pakistani EPR members and then sent a prearranged signal to all Bengali EPR companies attached to the Chittagong EPR sector to imprison all Pakistani soldiers and come to the city. This is the only instance where Bengali units launched a preemptive strike against the Pakistanis during the operation.

Commanded by Lt. Col Fatami, 20 Baluch sent 6 trucks loaded with squads to secure EBRC around 11:30 P.M. They achieved total surprise and killed over 1000 plus Bengali peoples and their families and secured the area by 3:30 P.M. Lt Col. M.R. Chowdhury was among those killed, while surviving Bengali personnel were scattered. Pakistani troops had partially achieved their objectives by securing the cantonment, the port and the airport, and they awaited reinforcements from Comilla before taking further steps.

8 EBR squads at Sholoshahar were unaware of the attack on EBRC. Major Ziaur Rahman was away, making his way to port to unload ammunition from MV Swat around 11:45 P.M. while Major Mir Shawkat Ali had been ordered to take a company to the port. When some of the EBRC survivors reached 8 EBR lines begging for help, Captain Khalekuzzaman raced to find Zia while Captain Oli Ahmad began recalling EBR squads to Sholoshahar and arrested all Pakistani soldiers and officers of the unit. Captain Khalek managed to find Maj. Zia and get his escort of Pakistani squads back to 8 EBR lines, where Zia managed to arrest his escort and order Bengali troops to move out. Bengali officers were divided in their opinion, some wanted to take on the 20 Baluch at EBRC to save Bengali lives, but ultimately it was decided that such a move would be suicidal. 8 EBR left the city and took position across the Kalurghat Bridge around 1:15 A.M. Bengali squads killed all Pakistani prisoners including the Commander, Lt. Col. Janjua prior to moving out.

Pakistani squads from the naval base launched an unsuccessful attack on the EPR HQ in the early hours (2:00A.M. – 4:00 A.M.) of March 26. Around 4:00 A.M. March 26, Major Bahar (Commander 53rd Brigade Signal Company -Bengali), warned Captain Rafiq of 80 to 100 vehicles bearing the bulk of 53rd Brigade squads under Bridge. Iqbal Shaffi was moving towards Chittagong. Captain Rafiq sent an EPR Machine gun platoon under Subadar Musa, with a mortar and rocket launcher to delay the Pakistani column near Kumira (12 miles north of Chittagong).

M.R Siddiqui (An Awami League leader) had phoned Captain Haroon (2IC 17th EPR Wing) in Kaptai around 9:40 P.M. about the situation in Chittagong. By 11:30 P.M. Captain Haroon had taken control of the wing, put Pakistani personnel in jail, and had signaled EPR squads in border areas to move to Chittagong by 3:30 A.M. Captain Haroon with his squads reached Kalurghat Bridge by 26 March morning, where Major Zia ordered him to stay with the 8 EBR squads, along with 2 EPR companies coming from Teknaf Rangamati. EPR Company imprisoned their Pakistani members and took position to the north east of cantonment by the early hours of March 26. Bengali plan of resistance had fallen apart; EPR squads were to remain without the expected reinforcements throughout the battle.

After the night of 25 March, Operation Searchlight had been continued in Chittagong at the end of the 10th April, 1971 and they wanted to take control in Chittagong. But it resulted in the Pakistani Army's unconditional surrender to the joint command of the Indian Army and Mukti Bahini on December 16, 1971. If you want to know more about Operation Searchlight, you can see Operation Searchlight in Dhaka, Mymensingh-Joydevpur and Comilla, Sylhet-Jessore, Khulna-Kushtia and Rajshahi, Rangpur-Saidpur.

1 comment:

  1. During the Operation Searchlight, Pakistani forces were really reinforced in Chittagong.