The ‘Lightning Campaign’ to liberate Bangladesh during the Indo-Pak War 1971 was one of the finest moments in Indian history. One of the main factors leading to the fall of erstwhile East Pakistan was the low morale of Pakistan Armed Forces. While various factors are attributable to this lowering of morale, one major factor was the famous ‘Battle of Garibpur’ fought in India’s favour in the initial stages of the war.
This key battle fought on 21-22 November 1971 before the Indo-Pak War was officially declared on 03 December 1971, was the first major battle in East Pakistan where a single infantry battalion 14 Punjab (Nabha Akal) supported by a squadron of armour successfully fought a Pakistani brigade.
The situation on the Indo-Pak border was worsening due to genocide by the Pakistan Army in early 1971. In view of the military actions by the Mukti Bahini, Pakistani forays and provocations inside Indian Territory increased, leading to Indian casualties.
14 Punjab was concentrated near the International Border (IB), where it was tasked to train the Mukti Fauj volunteers, as also neutralize an enemy Border Out Post, so as to successfully dominate the border and ‘No man’s land’ across the Kobadak River. By end November 1971, the enemy actions had reached a level where it became necessary to protect Indian interests by occupying selected enclaves in East Pakistan.
14 Punjab (Nabha Akal) under the able command of Lt Col (later Brig) was initially tasked to occupy a Battalion defended area in Fatehpur, located 6 kilometers inside East Pakistan which was well dominated by enemy patrols. The task was later revised “To secure area of Garibpur by first light 21 Nov 1971”. Located in Bayra salient, Garibpur lies astride the highway from India to Jessore via Chaugacha.
The village located in the north-west of what was East Pakistan, was an important crossroad for both nations. Its control created a road map for Indian forces to eventually defeat Pakistani troops in December 1971.
14 Punjab, along with ‘C’ Squadron, 45 Cavalry equipped with 14 PT-76 tanks occupied the Garibpur position by last light on 20 November 1971. The defences were ready by early morning 21st. The move was supposed to be a surprise, but following a skirmish with an enemy patrol on 20th morning, the Pakistanis were alerted of the impending attack. A Battalion of Pakistani 107 Infantry Brigade was located at Chaugacha, while the remainder Brigade and 9 Infantry Division was in Jessore. Since the Garibpur position outflanked the Pakistani Battalion at Chaugacha, there was violent response by Pakistani 107 Infantry Brigade to 14 Punjab’s entry across the Bayra salient.
At 6 am on 21 November, the enemy launched a Brigade size attack supported by a squadron of armour equipped with M24 Chaffee tanks. Possessing numerical superiority, Pakistani troops were in a position to decimate the Indian intrusion. But the Punjab Battalion, known for its long history of valour rose to the occasion splendidly and thwarted the attack, ably supported by the armoured squadron.
Two more infantry-tank attacks which followed later were beaten back resulting in heavy casualties to the enemy. By about 8:30 am, the enemy’s momentum of assault petered out and the winter sun, now through the rising fog, revealed large number of enemy casualties and destroyed tanks.
Source: Defence View