Task Force 74

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Task Force 74 was a US Navy task force of the United States Seventh Fleet that was deployed to the Bay of Bengal by the Nixon administration in December 1971, at the height of the Bangladesh War of Independence. Led by the Aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, the deployment of the task force was seen as a show of force by the US in support of Pakistan, and was claimed by India as an indication of US "tilt" towards Pakistan at a time that Bangladesh guerilla forces were close to capturing Dhaka. The task force number is now used by the Seventh Fleet's submarine force.

World War II[edit]

Following a preliminary bombardment, the battle for Cebu City began on 26 March 1945, when the Allies launched Operation Victor II.[1] Staging out of Leyte, where they had conducted rehearsal landings two days earlier, a large flotilla of cruisers and destroyers from the United States Seventh Fleet's Task Force 74 escorted the Cebu Attack Group to the island.[2] Under the leadership of Major General William H. Arnold, the forces assigned to the operation consisted of the Americal Division's 132nd and 182nd Infantry Regiments, totaling about 5,000 men, were landed on Cebu island at Talisay Beach, 4 miles (6.4 km) southwest of Cebu City. The 182nd came ashore southwest of the city, while the 132nd landed at a wide gravel beach to the northeast opposite a palm grove.[3] Meeting no Japanese opposition, the U.S. forces nevertheless suffered heavily from mines and booby traps as they crossed the beach.[4][5]


The Indian Ocean had, in the post-colonial cold-war situation in the 1960s, a strong British Royal Navy presence which projected Western interests in the region, and carried out security operations, as well as a deterrence against Soviet overtures in this area. The US navy's role at this time was confined to a limited presence in Bahrain.[6]

Naval deterrence in the Indian Ocean[edit]

By the mid-1960s, with a failing economy, Britain began to roll back her role in the region. In a situation of political instability in the region, the Soviet Union also began a strong diplomatic initiative in the littoral states and initiated limited naval deployments, prompting fears that withdrawal of a western peacekeeping role would allow the [Soviet Navy] to fulfil its aspirations in the region, threatening western economic and military interests in the region and leading to loss of this area from the western sphere of influence.[7] This lent a strong voice to the proponents of a strong US naval presence in the Indian Ocean, among them Elmo Zumwalt, as a diplomatic as well military deterrence against Soviet moves.[7] US security interests in the Indian Ocean were, however, initially restricted to the countries of Ethiopia, Iran and Saudi Arabia.[8]

Bangladesh War of Independence 1971[edit]

The Bangladesh War of Independence brought South Asia back into the focus of the cold-war confrontations. The crisis had its roots in the economic and social disparities between the Eastern and Western wings of Pakistan and a dominance of the Eastern wing by the west since the creation of India and Pakistan by the British in 1947 that increasingly divided the two wings through the 1960s[9] During the political crisis situation of March 1971, the Pakistan Army was aided and advised by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the negotiations between Mujib and Bhutto. Bhutto and the army stopped political negotiation with East Pakistan's Awami League headed by Sheikh Mujib, whose party had just won a landslide victory and majority seats in the Pakistan Parliament. Sheikh Mujib was to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan and form government. Bhutto with the help of the army was successful in preventing that from happening and convinced the army otherwise. The Pakistan government started a massive crackdown on the civilians and paramilitary police of the Eastern wing. Despite ample warnings and political threats by Mujib the Pakistan establishment decided not to heed to. Maulana Bhasani was fiercely spearheading the non cooperation movement across the eastern region amongst massive crowds. By the end of 1971, East Pakistan declared Independence and armed conflict broke out, its Eastern wing locked in a ferocious guerilla warfare for independence from the Western wing. The crisis precipitated in March 1971 when rising political discontent and cultural nationalism in East Pakistan was met by Yahya Khan with what has come to be called Operation Searchlight.[9][10][11] The majority of East Pakistan's political leadership fled to India, and Mujibur Rahman, was arrested and flown to Pakistan. Guerilla confrontations and bloody battles between Bangladesh Forces consisting of defected armed forces and paramilitary Bengali nationalists and some 90,000 strong Pakistan military began. Political order was forcibly and temporarily reimposed by the end of April.[10] The Pakistan army aided by paramilitaries from West Pakistan and local non-Bengali protected strongholds and attacked separatists. The massive and disproportionate crackdown by Pakistan Army forces[12] engendered a sea of refugees (estimated at the time to be about 10 million, 13% of the entire East Pakistani population)[10][13][14] who came flooding to the eastern provinces of India.[10][13] Facing a mounting humanitarian crisis, India started actively aiding and re-organising what was by this time already the nucleus of the Mukti Bahini.[10]

In the months before the war, both Pakistan and India attempted to shore up diplomatic support. On 9 August 1971, India signed a twenty-year co-operation treaty with the Soviet Union,[10] followed by a six-nation tour of Europe and USA by Indira Gandhi in October. This tour was intended to demonstrate India's professed neutrality despite the Indo-Soviet treaty, as well as to highlight the refugee problem faced by poverty-ridden India.[15] Pakistan came under increasing criticism[16] from India, the Soviet Union, Japan, and Europe as the plight of the refugees and their impact on the Indian economy were highlighted by Indira Gandhi in the UN and on a number of global tours.[14] However, the United States and China showed little interest in the crisis and actively opposed aid, intervention or support to the Mukti Bahini[17][18] Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at this time led a high-level delegation to Beijing to obtain commitment from China of support in case of Indian intervention while Pakistan pressed at the UN for an International Peacekeeping Force for the India-East Pakistan border.[15] The Pakistani efforts at the UN were however blocked by the Soviet Union in the Security council.[15] India's aid to the Mukti Bahini continued unabated and measured assistance to the Bangladesh Forces, and fighting between the Bangladesh Forces and the Pakistani Forces grew increasingly vicious. Mukti Bahini, Hemayet Bahini, Kaderia Bahini were active around different places of the country.[19]

Third Indo-Pak war[edit]

The Indo-Soviet treaty had provided India with cover against any possible Chinese intervention in aid of Pakistan if and when the conflict precipitated. To the Pakistani leadership, it became clear that armed Indian intervention and secession of East Pakistan was becoming inevitable.[20]

On 3 December, Pakistan launched Operation Chengiz Khan, marking the official initiation of hostilities of the Indo-Pak war of 1971. The Indian response was a defensive military strategy in the western theatre while a massive, coordinated and decisive offensive thrust into the Eastern theatre. On 5 December, United States began attempts for a UN-sponsored ceasefire, which were twice vetoed by the USSR in the security council. India extended her recognition of Bangladesh on 6 December.[15] On 8 December, Washington received intelligence reports that India was planning an offensive into West Pakistan.[21] It was in this situation that the United States dispatched a ten-ship naval task force, the US Task Force 74, from the Seventh Fleet off South Vietnam into the Bay of Bengal.

US diplomatic initiatives[edit]

With intelligence reports indicating the Indian cabinet was discussing the scopes of offensive into West Pakistan, on 10 December, the decision was taken by US to assemble a task force at Malacca strait, spearheaded by USS Enterprise. The force was to be capable of overshadowing the four Soviet ships already in the Bay of Bengal.[21]


The Task force was to be headed by USS Enterprise, at the time and still the largest aircraft carrier in the world. In addition, it consisted of amphibious assault carrier USS Tripoli (LPH-10), carrying a 200 strong Marine battalion and twenty five assault helicopters; The three guided missile escorts USS King (DDG-41), USS Decatur (DDG-31), and USS Parsons (DDG-33); four gun destroyers USS Bausell (DD-845), USS Orleck (DD-886), USS McKean (DD-784) and USS Anderson; one ammo ship USS Haleakala (AE-25);one auxiliary fleet supply ship from Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines USS White Plains (AFS-4), who loaded over 60 Tons of Mail and Christmas Packages for the Task Force before leaving Subic Bay to join Task Force 74 on 19 December and a nuclear attack submarine.[21] The Enterprise was assigned by the Central authority, while the other ships were assigned by local commanders.[22] Enterprise was at this time at the Tonkin Gulf area. Recovering her airborne aircraft and transferring personnel who were required to stay to the USS Constellation (CVA-64), she prepared to head off. The task force was delayed while the support ships refueled, it held off East of Singapore, and was ordered into the Indian Ocean on 14 December.[22] crossed Malacca straits on the nights of 13–14 December and entered the Bay of Bengal on the morning of 15 December.[21] The group was required to proceed slowly, averaging a speed of 15 knots, both to conserve fuel as well as to allow advance information on its heading.


The US government announced at the time that the task force could help evacuate Pakistani forces from East Pakistan following a ceasefire.[21]

Soviet involvement[edit]

On 6 and 13 December 1971, the Soviet Navy dispatched two groups of cruisers and destroyers and a submarine armed with nuclear missiles from Vladivostok; they trailed US Task Force 74 into the Indian Ocean from 18 December 1971 until 7 January 1972. The Soviets also had a nuclear submarine to help ward off the threat posed by USS Enterprise task force in the Indian Ocean.[23][24]


  1. ^ Lofgren 1996, p. 13 & 19.
  2. ^ Rottman 2002, p. 310.
  3. ^ Rottman 2002, p. 311.
  4. ^ "Cebu: Hostile Beach 1945". Company G, 182d Infantry Regiment: Fighting the War in the Pacific. Archived from the original on 25 December 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  5. ^ "The Liberation of Cebu: 68 years ago! | Freeman Opinion, The Freeman Sections, The Freeman". philstar.com. 26 March 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  6. ^ Rais 1987, p. 40
  7. ^ a b Rais 1987, p. 41
  8. ^ Rais 1987, p. 44
  9. ^ a b Belchman & Kaplan 1978, p. 176
  10. ^ a b c d e f Belchman & Kaplan 1978, p. 177
  11. ^ Adam Jones. "in Bangladesh, 1971". Gendercide Watch. Retrieved 16 June 2008.
  12. ^ Shanberg S.The Pakistani Slaughter That Nixon Ignored, Syndicated Column 1994, p. The New York Times. 3 May 1994
  13. ^ a b Crisis in South Asia – A report by Senator Edward Kennedy to the Subcommittee investigating the Problem of Refugees and Their Settlement, Submitted to U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, 1 November 1971, U.S. Govt. Press.pp6-7
  14. ^ a b "India and Pakistan: Over the Edge". Time. Vol. 98 no. 24. 13 December 1971.
  15. ^ a b c d Belchman & Kaplan 1978, p. 178
  16. ^ Donaldson, Robert H. (June 1972). "India: The Soviet Stake in Stability". Asian Survey. University of California Press. 12 (6): 475–492. doi:10.1525/as.1972.12.6.01p0230v. JSTOR 2643045.
  17. ^ Sheren, Syeda Momtaz (2012). "War of Liberation, The". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  18. ^ Remarks of President Richard M Nixon on 10 April 1971 at State Department Signing of Biological Weapon's Convention.

    Every Great Power must follow the principle that it should not directly or indirectly allow any other nation to use force or armed aggression against one of its neighbours.

    . USIS Text, pp 1–2.
  19. ^ Kapur, Ashok (June 1972). "Indo-Soviet Treaty and the Emerging Asian Balance". Asian Survey. University of California Press. 12 (6): 463–474. doi:10.1525/as.1972.12.6.01p0229r. JSTOR 2643044.
  20. ^ "Bangladesh: Out of War, a Nation Is Born". Time. Vol. 98 no. 25. 20 December 1971.
  21. ^ a b c d e Belchman & Kaplan 1978, p. 188
  22. ^ a b Francis & Ives 2003, p. 182
  23. ^ "Cold war games". Bharat Rakshak. Archived from the original on 28 August 2009. Retrieved 20 October 2009.
  24. ^ Malhotra, Inder (11 December 2009). "Birth of a nation". The Indian Express. Retrieved 14 April 2011.


Further reading[edit]

  • On Watch: a memoir by Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr. (The New York Times Book Co., ISBN 0-8129-0520-2) - Zumwalt's involvement in the dispatch of Task Force 74

External links[edit]