Battle of Gazipur
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The Battle of Gazipur was a military engagement on 4 and 5 December 1971, during the Bangladesh liberation war. It took place at the Gazipur Tea Estate near Kulaura, in Sylhet District of what was then East Pakistan. The advancing Mitro Bahini (comprising Mukti Bahini and Indian Army) attacked the 22 Baluch Regiment of the Pakistan Army. This battle was a prelude to the Battle of Sylhet.
4/5 December 1971
By 27 November 1971 evening 4/5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) had fortified themselves at Kadamtal, a place closer to the border opposite the Kulaura/Maulvi Bazar Sector of the Sylhet Division of East Pakistan. Small-scale attacks were to be employed to capture territory. The 59th Mountain Brigade was to operate, as part of the 8th Mountain Division plan, in tandem, possibly for thrust to Sylhet. The area had rolling hills with tea gardens dotting the area along the border. Further west, inside East Pakistan, low hills obscured any observations beyond them, had provided an excellent defensive and observation point into the Indian side of the border. The hills tapered just East of Kulaura and the plains of the Sylhet division started from here. Kulaura was a communications centre and rail head ten kilometres in depth, was connected to Maulvi Bazar; along the axis Dharmanagar – Gazipur – Maulvi Bazar – Sylhet.
The task given to the 8 Mountain Division was at this stage was:
- Capture of the border posts along axes Dharmanagar – Gazipur-Kalaura, Dharmanagar- Juri by the 59th Mountain Brigade. The 81st Mountain Brigade was to operate along the Shamshernagar- Fenchuganj- Maulvi Bazar axis.
- Capture of Sylhet by multi-pronged attacks by the division.
Pakistan's 313rd Infantry Brigade, part of Pakistan's 14th Infantry Division, was located at Maulvi Bazar. Its 202 Infantry Brigade had moved to Sylhet, while its third brigade was covering Bhairab Bazar and the Ashuganj area further south. The 22 Baluch was defending the area ear Sagarnal, Gazipur, Kalaura, and Juri with additional company each of Scouts and EPCAF. One of this battalion's companies was deployed along the Dharmanagar-Juri axis with couple of border posts. Border Out Post of a platoon plus strength of regular troops and EPCAF at Sagarnal, a company at Gazipur with about a platoon each of Scouts and EPCAF, battalion headquarters at Kalaura and remainder troops at Maulvi Bazar. Thing not known at that time was that 22 Baluch had additional Reconnaissance and Support elements which had tremendously augmented firepower of their defences.
Indian 59 Mountain Brigade Plan envisaged capture of Sagarnal Border Out Post by 4/5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) as preliminary operations. The 9th Guards were to capture Juri, and the 6th Rajput was to capture Gazipur and advance up to Kalaura. 4/5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) as reserve for 6 Rajput operation and further task to be given as the battle progressed. It was planned that once Kalaura was secured, operations of both brigades of the division will be coordinated.
At Gazipur, Dharmanagar – Kadamtal – Sagarnal – Gazipur – Kalaura road passed through the area dominated by Gazipur Tea Factory Manager's Bungalow and heights to the Southeast. The row of tea plantation created a maze and these alleys were covered by automatic fire. To its North was high ground with good observation of the area, bunkers around it and characterised by Banana Plantation and called Kela-Ka-Bagicha. On 3 December 1971 around 2100 hours, 6 Rajput attacked Gazipur but met with stiff resistance. An odd hour before first light it was apparent that the attack had failed and it was too late to employ reserves.
At this stage 4/5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) was warned for task for the capture of Gazipur next night; 4/5 December 1971. Day of 4th was used for reconnaissance. With the attack launched the previous night, the Pakistanis were sensitive in the area, and had reorganised their defences to prepare for any an attack from any direction. They were supported by artillery guns. The appreciated deployment of Pakistan's 22 Baluch Company plus at Gazipur was; Kela-Ka-Bagicha; Platoon with section of Scouts; Manager's Bungalow, Platoon with section Scouts and MMG's; Factory, Company Headquarters with a platoon, Scouts and Reconnaissance and Support elements. The Pakistani defences were based on built up area and well prepared bunkers. 4/5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force)planned capture of localities in phases; Kela-Ka-Bagicha by Delta Company; Manager's Bungalow by Alfa Company; Factory by Bravo and Charlie Company; CO 2 (Shyam Kelkar) was made overall commander of Factory assault by B and C Company.
Delta Company led the move to the objective. By about 2030 hours the advancing column reached the height immediately North of Kela-Ka-Bagicha and Pakistanis opened up with artillery, MMG and LMG's. It was almost simultaneously that the company charged at about 2045 hours. Apparently Pakistanis had got wind of the attack at the last minute and their reaction was violent. During the hand-to-hand fighting casualties occurred. Delta did its bit, captured Kela-ka- Bagicha. However, Company commander was injured during the attack. The next objective Manager's Bungalow had literary been turned into a fortress with bunkers strewn around the area. The firing was on fixed lines, covering available gaps in the tea plantation rows and the approach from Kela-Ka-Bagicha. Because of loss of radio contact Alfa Company progress was not known and as such Bravo Company was tasked to capture Manager's Bungalow. Alfa Company didn't know about Bravo Company being employed in its place from the planned direction. Luckily Alfa's had taken a slight detour and angled with thrust on the rear side while Bravo targeted it from Kela-Ka-Bagicha side. Casualties were suffered which included Coy Commander of Bravo Company but not before Manager's Bungalow had been captured. There, however, was one outstation silent; that of CO 2 (Major Shyam Kelkar). Well along the direction and path of attack CO 2 (Major Shyam Kelkar) had led the attack, was struck with a bullet and had died on the spot.
The last and decisive phase of attack on the Tea Factory can best be narrated in the words of the Commanding Officer (Late Brigadier A B Harolikar, MVC):
At this stage I found myself along with my Reconnaissance Group between Manager's Bungalow and the Factory Gate. The Factory gate was hardly 100 metres in front of me. But an MMG had covered this gate effectively by fire. I noticed a Group of 5–6 jawans (Soldiers) in front of me and some jawans (Soldiers) behind me. We had all automatically taken cover in a longish (but narrow in width, like a drain) nullah, which seemed to be dry and shallow. But its shallow was adequate to protect us from flying splinters of bursting artillery shells and whizzing small arms fire....... Only Charlie Company under its company commander had so far not been committed by me in an assault. But I was not aware of what casualties it may have suffered in the relentless artillery pounding and the MMG firing continuously. ......Any further delay in assaulting Factory area would tilt the balance in favour of the enemy. .......I knew that I may not survive the next moment, but I was certain that the Factory area would be ours; for hardly I had rushed forward a few yards when I found that the soldiers who had taken cover in front of me, were now rushing ahead of me, joined by others from behind and those emerging from the darkness. Before I knew what was happening, the small group in front of me had rushed through the gate- through the jaws of death. Who were they? The daredevils? To this day I do not know. It was dark and I could not see the faces. Having rushed inside the factory area we were all dispersed inside in different directions to face any unforeseen circumstances. Enemy soldiers manning the MMG's and other defences fled leaving some of their dead and wounded besides weapons, ammunition and equipment.
Finally the Gazipur Tea Estate location had been captured and with this attack the command and control of 22 Baluch was split, the battalion headquarters slipped away from Kalaura, as 4/5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) advanced to Kalaura and occupied it on 6 December 1971. The Pakistani's had suffered heavy casualties; 15 dead Pakistani soldiers were found on the objective at Gazipur, and the Pakistanis carried away at least 15 of their dead and approximately 40 wounded. The Indians too had paid a heavy price; one officer- CO 2 (Major SG Kelkar) and 10 other ranks killed, 4 officers (Jassi Rawat, Viru Rawat, Sahrawat and Y. Bharat), two JCOs (Including Delta Senior JCO Subedar Bal Bahadur Thapa) and 57 other ranks injured.