Battle of Atgram

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The Battle of Atgram Complex, fought on 21 November 1971 between the 5 Gorkha Rifles of the Indian Army and the 31st Punjab regiment of the Pakistan Army, was one of the first large-scale military engagements preceding the formal initiation of hostilities in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.


The battle was fought at the border village of Atgram, approximately 35 kilometres east of the town of Sylhet in what was then East Pakistan. The village lay close to the Surma River, which served as a de-facto border between East Pakistan and India's Cachar District of Assam.

The target of the Indian operation was the Atgram complex. Situated two kilometres inside the International Border across the River Surma, Atgram served as a major road communication centre at the eastern edge of Sylhet Division of East Pakistan, connecting it with Zakiganj to the south opposite the Indian Border town of Karimganj. The complex itself comprised a Pakistani border outpost on the River Surma, a Masjid close to the outpost and the village of Atgram itself. The site was held by a defending force of the B company of the 31 Punjab Regiment, Pakistan Army, along with additional elements of Mujahids, Thal/Tochi Scouts and the Pakistan Rangers under Major Azhar Alvi, supported by Medium Machine Guns (MMGs), Recoilless Guns (RCLs), Chinese Rocket Launchers and 81 millimetre mortars. Surrounded by low lying marshes, nearly knee deep, Atgram itself lay on a higher ground. The Battalion Headquarter of 31 Punjab was reported to be located at Charkhai with some troops 10 kilometres west of Atgram.

Early operations[edit]

The Indian Army's 59 Mountain Brigade led by Brigadier C A Quinn, was tasked to capture Atgram-Zakiganj. Accordingly, 4/5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) was tasked to capture the Atgram Salient by first light 21 November 1971 and advance further towards Charkhai and secure Sarkar Bazar, which lay approximately 4 kilometres west of the village of Atgram. The 9 Guards of 59 Mountain Brigade were given the task of capturing Zakiganj. The plans for the attack, drawn up by Lieutenant Colonel A B Harolikar, aimed to surprise the defending Pakistani force by infiltrating, and establishing road blocks to prevent reinforcements from Sarkar Bazar from the west Zakiganj to the south. This meant that to reach the Atgram, the Gorkhas had to cross the River Surma, infiltrating between Pakistani defences of Raigram and Amalsid, proceeding through four kilometres of marshes and launching the assault on Atgram complex from the rear. The force was then to proceed and clear the Border Outposts. The Gorkha C Company and an Adhoc Force, was tasked to set up the road blocks and hold the approaches, while the main attack on Atgram was to be carried out by A and D Companies. To achieve maximum possible surprise, as well as a psychological factor, the main attack was planned with Kukris.

By August 1971, Battalion (Fourth Battalion The Fifth Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force)) had concentrated at Panchgram {Badarpur- Cachar District; Assam}. It was evident that Battalion will have to soon un-sheath Khukri’s. There was furious activity, exchange of fire and forays deep inside the East Pakistan territory by Mukti Bahini fighters. The influx of refugees had reached all time high and everyday there were news of some activity along the border. Reports of possible sabotage by Paki Forces along Silichar / Jaintia Hills {Meghalaya} Border were ripe and my Company {Delta} was moved to general area Ratachara / Natanpur for patrolling, support of Mukti Bahini and instil confidence amongst local population. One fine day {Third week of September 1971} Late Brigadier C A Quinn {Bunty Quinn; our Commander, 59 Mountain Brigade} visited the Company. This was the time Pakistani Guns from Charkhai in Sylhet Sector opened on our positions, to be silenced by a troop of our medium guns. In the coming weeks, due to frequent firing by Pakistani Forces in this area, mostly on Mukhti Bahini fighters, they {Mukti Bahini} had planned to go inside East Pakistan territory and capture Sarkar Bazar {See sketch below} and area around it. By about 3 PM on the designated day they were in Sarkar Bazar and in jubilation fired in the air and remained there for the night, withdrew and fell back on our firm base. My senior JCO, Subedar Bal Bahadur Thapa, with a platoon, had escorted them, as we had orders not to go beyond the firm base. This general area {Sarkar Bazar} was to become a landmark in our battalion operations in November 1971. In the meantime East Bengal Rifle Units, organised as a brigade {1 EBR Brigade} under Colonel Zia-ul–Rehman {Late General Zia-ul–Rehman, who became Bangladesh Army Chief and later President Of Bangladesh after the assassination of Sheikh Mujib-u- Rehman in a coup on 15 August 1975}. One fine day 1 EBR Brigade moved into the area, with one of its battalions. Colonel Zia too arrived and we had a quite evening together over Mach and Bat {Fish Curry and Rice}. Things had started hotting up; a quiet Dasain {Dussehra} for the Battalion and end October saw the whole battalion again concentrate at Panchgram; fondly called Char-Panch Gram, after our battalion numerical number 4/5 Gorkha Rifles {Frontier Force}, for next session.

Reconnaissance and objectives[edit]

By beginning November 1971, we had already done reconnaissance along the borders but by mid November it was area specific, where the brigade was to operate; area opposite Natanpur / Karbala BOP’s; Atgram Complex. Atgram Complex, nearly 30 kilometres from East Pakistan’s important town of Sylhet, was based on a border village of Atgram, referred to as Umargarh by Pakistanis, two kilometres inside and across River Surma, which also was approximately the border between then East Pakistan and Cachar District of Assam {India}. The complex comprised Amalsid Border Out Post {BOP} based on Inspection Bungalow {IB} on river Surma, Masjid close to this BOP and Atgram Village. Atgram was located on a higher ground than the low lying and nearly knee deep marshy area around it. B Company 31 Punjab Pakistan Army with additional elements of Mujahids, Thal/ Tochi Scouts, Rangers, supported by Medium Machine Guns {MMGs}, Recoilless Guns {RCL’s}, Chinese Rocket Launchers and 81 millimetre mortars under Major Azhar Alvi were defending Atgram Complex. All positions except Atgram Bus Stand, where in front and could be observed and had been actively engaging our BOP’s with fire and rockets. Atgram being in depth, could not be observed and information about the Paki deployment in this area was scanty. Battalion Headquarter 31 Punjab and some forces was reported to be located at Charkhai, 7 kilometres away. 31 Punjab Pak Army was also holding Zakiganj, south of Atgram, with another company. Paki defences were supported by guns from area around Charkhai; on road Atgram- Charkhai- Sylhet. By 16 November we were told of our areas of interest; Atgram Complex i.e. Amalsid Masjid and Amalsid IB {BOP} and Atgram Bus Stand. 4/5 Gorkha Rifles {Frontier Force} was given the task of capturing Atgram Complex by first light 21 November 1971, secure Sarkar Bazar 3-4 kilometres west of Atgram and advance towards Charkhai, on orders. The best option to capture Atgram Complex was to first capture Atgram and then develop operations towards its front localities. This meant crossing of River Surma, infiltrate in between Pakistani defended locality of Raygram and Amalsid BOP’s, traverse four kilometres of marsh and assault Atgram from the rear and then clear the BOP’s/ defences in the front. 9 Guards of the brigade {59 Mountain Brigade} was simultaneously tasked to capture Zakiganj. Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel {Later Brigadier} A B Harolikar, MVC formulated the attack plan based on measures to achieve surprise; attack by infiltration, establishment of road blocks at Sarkar Bazar by B Company, 3-4 kilometres west of Atgram and south of Atgram by C Company. The main assault was to be launched by two Company’s; Alfa {Late Major Dinesh Rana} and Delta {Major {Later Brigadier} Rattan Kaul}. Khukri, the world famous personal weapon of a Gurkha was to be the principal weapon of decision in this battle of hand to hand fight.

Based on orders, both assaulting Company Commanders allocated objectives and tasking as under, after coordination within themselves:-


Simultaneous attack on Amalsid and IB {Inspection Bungalow} from rear with two platoons (Praveen Johri (No 1 Platoon) and Hawa Singh (No 2 Platoon)) with Subedar Ran Bahadur’s platoon {No 3 Platoon} as reserve. Attack timings were to be coordinated with Delta and progress of the movement.


Simultaneous attack from rear along Zakiganj- Atgram Road with two platoons {Yang Bharat {No 10 Platoon} and Subedar Tirtha Bahadur {No 11 Platoon} with Subedar Bal Bahadur Thapa’s platoon {No 12 Platoon} as reserve. No 10 Platoon was specifically tasked to capture area of Atgram Road Junction, {No 11 Platoon} Subedar Tirtha Bahadur capture high ground overlooking road junction.

Attack Plan[edit]

The countdown began on 17 November 1971. CO gave out attack plan in the Officers Mess at Panchgram, on an enlargement:-

  • Concentration into Forward Assembly Area {FAA} Night 19/20 November. FAA two kilometres behind Natanpur BOP, in a jungle area. Move partly by day ex Panchgram and move beyond NH 44 after hours of darkness.
  • Attack by infiltration, after establishing secure corridor across Surma River. Movement to riverfront to start after last light 20 November.
  • Crossing of Surma River with pneumatic boats under Engineer Regiment, BSF to secure home bank but to be told of task at last minute. C Company {Major later Colonel Maney Malik} secure far bank and establish corridor by 2130 hours 20 November. Kelagram/ Raghur Chak to be masked but no physical assault. Beyond far bank, B Company {Viru Rawat} to move ahead; bypass Raygram, Kamalpur villages, establish Road Block in area Sarkar Bazar, not later than 0300 hours 21 November 1971, act as reserve from the direction of West and CO 2 {Second-in-Command} {late Major Shyam Kelkar} to control the road block operations.
  • C Company less a platoon to move behind B Company, establish road block on Atgram – Zakiganj Road in area jungle, south of Atgram Road Junction and act as reserve. Platoon {Under Ravindra Singh} for corridor protection, to reel up and move at the tail of the battalion column.
  • Major later Colonel Yashwant {Jassi} Rawat with Pioneer Section, Section each of MMG’s and Rcl, making adhoc force; to move behind C Company and establish in general area just north of C Company for task to be given later.
  • A Company {Late Major Dinesh Rana} to move behind C Company and capture Amalsid BOP and IB {Inspection Bungalow}.
  • D Company {Major {later Brigadier} Rattan Kaul} to move behind A Company and capture Atgram Bus Stand to include Atgram High Ground. Attack timings to be synchronised depending upon movement, but appreciated between 0100 and 0300 hours 21 November 1971.
  • Battalion R Group to move with C Company up to the corridor and thereafter move with one of the company, as the progress of movement warranted. Strict silence and fire control; avoid known positions, no return fire, while moving to the objectives. Artillery support only during the assault to be coordinated on Radio by CO, Company Commanders, BC and Artillery OP’s.

Choice of H Hour. Unlike conventional attack, CO gave a broad band of Hotel hour for the attack was by infiltration; timings depended upon progress of movement through the area. It also depended, to certain extent, time it took to cross Surma River. CO when asked about his Hotel hour at the Divisional Headquarter had given reasoning and in his own words; “Planned to ‘ close in’ {i.e. pounce on the enemy inside their bunker} between 1 AM and 3 AM on the night of 20/21 November 1971, their senses dulled, and reactions and responses slow.”

Conduct of Operations[edit]

The Battalion crossed River Surma in the earlier part of the night of 20 November 1971. C Company and Commanding Officers Group were first to cross with the help of pneumatic boats, established firm base across the river for battalion to pass through and move in between Pakistani BOP’s. The task of C Company involved securing of far bank of the River, establish a firm base and masking Pakistani localities of Amalsid, Kelagram and Raygram. After the establishment of firm base, battalion passed through. C Company, which was to reel up and establish a road block on road Atgram - Zakiganj. B Company {Major {Later Lt Col} VS Rawat and Late Major Kelkar} tasked to establish Road Block at Sarkar Bazar {west of Atgram} crossed after establishment of firm base and corridor. The assault force of A Company {Dinesh Rana}, D Coy {Rattan Kaul} and an Adhoc Force {Major {Later Colonel} Yashwant Rawat} crossed thereafter, in that sequence. Initial progress of move was slow due to firing by Pakistani posts and movement through the marshy stretch. The battalion troops did not retaliate. The assaulting troops {A and D Company} neared the objective in the later part of the night. C Company and Adhoc Force established road block as planned, while B Coy established road block at Sarkar Bazar.

Pak Patrol’s ‘Order’ To Raise Hands[edit]

Soon column of assaulting company’s crossed a track/road. It was 5 to 7 feet above ground level and we thought we had either crossed Atgram-Raygram/ Bala or Atgram-Zakiganj Road and the objectives were still far off. At this juncture the assaulting column guides {Alfa Company} started steering towards North. Earlier effort to find direction of the objectives with a round of fire was not utilised, to maintain surprise. There was need to go closer towards the objective, as it was felt that we were going away from them. Alfa column, CO’s Group had crossed over the road, Delta’s 10 Platoon too had crossed. My Group had just crossed and part of 11 Platoon too had crossed, but bulk of this platoon was on the road. By some coincidence Subedar Bal Bahadur bringing up the tail fetched up parallel to this platoon and in whispers was asking me as to how far we were from Atgram. The road remained solidly silhouetted against starry night. Suddenly few men appeared against the skyline, on the road, with a bunker close by. Someone amongst them shouted “Kaun Hai. Hath Khara Karo” {Who is there? Raise your hand}. I felt that this was the position of Atgram; indicators being road, bunker and Paki troops who must have thought that Mukhti’s had come. In retaliation few of us, close by, shouted ‘Charge Ayo Gorkhali’. Frankly to this day I don’t know what made us shout the war cry, at this stage, when indicators were not enough of being next to the objective. I could hear CO shouting ‘Parkha, Objective ma pughe Chhaina’ {Wait, we are still away from the objective}; The arrow had left the bow and there was no way to recall it and Ayo Gorkhali resonated around the area. This was at about 0430 Hours 21 November 1971, when A and D Company, led by their commanders, with CO in the centre, launched fierce Khukri assault and as the dawn broke captured Atgram. Pakistanis were caught by surprise and met their end with dazzling Khukris. In the battle Major Azhar Alvi tried to kill the CO and others but was killed. After capture of Atgram, A Company secured Chargram, west of Atgram. D Company secured Amalsid Masjid and Amalsid BOP. 31 bodies of Pakistanis including that of Major Azhar Alvi were found and scores of Paki troops reportedly injured. The assault was classical operation of attack by infiltration, silent attack personally led by Commanding Officer {CO}, company commander’s, junior leaders and use of Khukri’s as the weapon of decision.

Major Azhar Alvi, Company Commander B Company 31 Punjab Pak Army- Fights Back[edit]

During the process of reorganisation, I was moving along with CO and we had already seen Company Commander’s bunker. As we came out into a bigger room, where our injured and dead were lying, we saw a row of 8 to 10 Paki dead bodies; but none except one with a weapon. The person sturdy and well built was fully and neatly dressed, lying amongst the dead. I am not sure as to whether he was injured or feigning; in no case seriously injured. Sudden movement by this person startled us. Actually we were taking toll of enemy dead and our own casualties. I noticed that the sturdy person posing as dead, was moving his hand on the rifle at his side {Actually it was deadly Chinese Carbine, as I recollect -I came to know later that he was Major Alvi, B Coy Commander, 31 Punjab Pak Army }.He tried to grapple with CO, as I was trying to shoot him but my sten gun misfired. Subedar Ran Bahadur, who was next to us and seeing my sten not firing, hit him and pumped a burst into Alvi and killing him instantly. Major Alvi lay dead. Major Azhar Alvi of B Company 31 Punjab died a death of a brave soldier. Even when the chips were down, he tried his best to kill command elements of the Battalion. Exemplary bravery, a dignified death in the best tradition of the troops he commanded and for the country he served. Major Azhar Alvi was awarded Hilal-e- Jurat, Pakistan’s second highest award for bravery {Equivalent to our MVC} posthumously. He deserved it, for he set an example by doing something spectacular in these circumstances. Later in the day at Atgram, CO had also found a walking stick. In the afternoon situation had stabilised and Commander, Brigadier Bunty Quinn came to Atgram. CO tried to present the walking stick to him, which was declined. But he {Bunty Quinn} while moving around, noticed a Parakeet {Possibly pet bird of late Major Alvi} in a cage, shrieking, forlorn, almost insane and caged in Alvi’s room. He whistled to the bird for a while and was successful in quietening him. The bird was handed over to Commander and he gracefully took it. The Parakeet had sensed death of his master and in his hour of grief someone, Bunty Quinn, had come to share it with him and that is how he quietened as Bunty Quinn whistled to him and carried it with him.


We lost two officers {Captain Johri, Second Lieutenant Hawa Singh; both Platoon Commanders’}, One JCO {MFC}, Two Other Rank’s and few injured. It was this Khukri assault which blazed trail of terror amongst the Paki’s; B Company 31 Punjab disintegrated and ceased to exist. Rifleman Dil Bahadur Chettri for single handedly killing eight Pakistanis with his Khukri was awarded Maha Vir Chakra {MVC}. Rifleman Phas Bahadur Pun and Second Lieutenant Hawa Singh were awarded Vir Chakra, posthumously, for their exemplary bravery. The Battalion won one Maha Vir Chakra {MVC}, two Vir Chakra’s {Vr C’s} and two Sena Medal’s (SM’s; Captain Praveen Johry {Posthumously} and Subedar Tirtha Bahadur) for this action. For his exemplary leadership, command, personal bravery at Atgram, followed by attack at Gazipur, and successful conduct of Indian Army’s First Ever Heliborne Operation at Sylhet, resulting in the surrender of two Pakistani Brigades {202 & 313} Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel {Later Brigadier} A B Harolikar was awarded Maha Vir Chakra {MVC; Second Highest Bravery Award}. This flash of Khukri’s created such terror in the minds of Pakistani troops that their company of 22 Baluch buckled at Gazipur, further South, on 4/5 December 1971 and when battalion landed at Sylhet on 7 December 1971, in Indian Army’s first ever heliborne operation. It held ground in spite of odds, tied down two Pakistani Brigades {313 and 202}, culminating in negotiation of surrender of Sylhet Garrison to the Battalion (4/5 GR (FF)) on the morning of 15 December 1971 and formal surrender on 16 December 1971; nearly 24 hours earlier than their surrender at Dacca on 16 December evening.


After this assault phase, A Company moved to Sarkar Bazar, to reinforce road block established by B Company under Second-in-Command Late Major Shyam Kelkar. After securing of Amalsid, my Company {D} also moved to Sarkar Bazar and by about mid day built up on the other two Companies B and A}. As I led the company column along the road, we saw a 6 foot tall burly Pathan, in Muzri dress, duly tied with rope, being escorted by two Johnny’s; Naik Damar Bahadur Gurung, a boxer of the battalion who was hardly 5 feet tall and Naik Suk Bahadur; both of Bravo Company; with remainder few men walking loosely behind them. It was apparent that the patrol had captured the Paki and were now escorting him to Company Headquarter. A smile appeared on my lips, while men around me giggled. We were approximately 100 yards away from them when I hailed them. Damare, as we called Naik Damar Bahadur Gurung, looked towards me and before I could say Jack Robin, there was a grenade blast. The Pathan seeing his predicament had taken out a grenade from his pouch, took off the pin, kept it next to his body, told Damare and his colleagues to Bago {Run Away} and blew himself up. He was from Tochi Scouts, as his shoulder titles indicated. Tochi’s are Pakistan’s Northern Area tribal; fiercely proud and brave. This unknown Tochi had stood by the reputation of his tribe.

In spite of inadequate intelligence and topographical information, we waded through deep marshy area, which was not known, but nobody cared at that time. This is because mind is so deeply and intensely occupied with variety of likely consequences and toying with contingencies thereof that body is immune to external stimuli. That is the state of mind on such occasions. Atgram was classic assault by infiltration, against strong and almost equal opposition, delivered with the skill of a craftsman, who achieves a perfect result, even beyond his expectations. B Company 31 Punjab Pak Army and affiliated troops at Atgram ceased to exist for the rest of the war. And finally the encounter with late Major Azhar Alvi; CO, myself and many others being his close and immediate target. The encounter for Alvi was either “you or me”. It would have been catastrophic had Alvi succeeded. This is what Major Mumtaz Hussain Shah also of 31 Punajb Pak Army had to say about the fate of B Company of his battalion at Atgram; “The second prong {sic: 4/5 GR {FF} assault; first prong refers to 9 Guards attack at Zakiganj} on Major Azhar Alvi’s B Coy was more lethal.... B Coy was mauled completely. Major Alvi and his men laid their lives. Only few stragglers could reach the Battalion Headquarters at Charkhai to tell the tale”. Not that troops of B Company 31 Punjab Pak Army were cowards but they had been annihilated by Gorkha’s from none other than Fourth Battalion The Fifth Gorkhas {Frontier Force}.